Since 2008, we have celebrated September 27th as National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This annual recognition is to remind us that HIV still exists in our lives and that this epidemic continues to disproportionately impact the lives of gay men. Careteam Plus was founded in 1993 to provide medical care and social services to people living with HIV/AIDS. Our staff has worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone who is at risk for HIV knows it, knows how to prevent it, and knows where to go should they contract this disease.
In 1981, the CDC published the first article in its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report on the yet unnamed HIV Disease. It described five previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles who all had pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and other unusual infections indicating that their immune systems were not working. The article indicated that two of the men had died at the time of publishing the report and the others would die soon.Within days, there were reports from around the country of similar cases. They didn’t know what was causing it or how to treat it. By the end of the year, there were 337 cases, sixteen of which were children under the age of thirteen and one-third were already deceased. In May of 1982, the New York Times published a story about this new disease and called it the Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. This solidified the public perception of this being a gay issue. July brought the first case in patients with hemophilia. The first legislation introduced for funding AIDS research was on Sept. 28, 1982. It died in committee. December 1982 linked a 20-month old infant who had multiple blood transfusions at birth with donors who had AIDS. Congress passed a bill, in March 1983, providing $12M for AIDS research and treatment.
In May of 1983, two French scientists discovered the retrovirus that would later be called HIV. It would be eleven years before Congress allocates funding for the treatment of HIV and twelve years before the number of new AIDS cases began to decline in the US. Oct 31st, 1996 marked 500,000 diagnosed AIDS cases.
In 1996, new medications, protease inhibitors were approved and in 1997, the CDC announced the first substantial decline in AIDS related deaths. There was a 47% decrease from 1996-1997.
In 2012, the US FDA approved the first Pre-exposure prophylactic medication for HIV. Studies have shown that when people at risk for HIV take PrEP daily, their risk for infection is reduced by 99%.
There continues to be around 38,000 new diagnoses since 2014. There are approximately 1.2M people living with HIV in the US and the CDC estimates that about 14% are not even aware of it. Sixty-seven percent of new HIV infections are among people of color and sixty-nine percent are men who have sex with other men. Why is everyone at risk for HIV infection not taking PrEP daily? It is available for anyone who wants it, even those who are uninsured.
In 2020, currently there is no vaccine but we remain hopeful. There have been two reported cases of HIV being cured. Both of these cases were people who had received bone marrow transplants from donors who were genetically immune to HIV. Bone marrow transplants are not the answer for a cure. They are much too dangerous and costly. These two cases however give us hope that a cure for everyone is possible.
As we remain hopeful, we want to acknowledge that it was the work of many gay activists like Larry Kramer, the founder of ACT UP, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, who made such a huge difference in those early years. In 1987, TIME Magazine called ACT UP “the most effective health activist (group) in history”, keeping AIDS in the faces of those who could make a difference; governments, elected officials, public health agencies, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and religious institutions.
Keep the faith and ask about PrEP.
Johanna Haynes, LISW AP/CP