Thirty-two years ago, on June 5, in 1981, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta published a report of five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) among previously healthy young men in Los Angeles. All of the men were described as “homosexuals” — two had died.
This was the first official mention of a disease that had no name, no known means of transmission, no treatment and no cure.
In the more than 30 years that would follow, an estimated 60 million people world-wide would contract the disease known as HIV, and the global AIDS pandemic would claim the lives of more than 30 million people.
Today is World AIDS Day.
In what has become one of the most recognized international health days in modern history, World AIDS Day is a day to raise awareness and commemorate those who have lost their lives to one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.
At its peak in 1996, an estimated 3.5 million people worldwide became infected with HIV.
Today, while there is increased access to treatments for AIDS and HIV that can slow the course of the disease, there is still no known cure or vaccine.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), about 35.3 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and two thirds of them live in developing countries around the world.
Globally, the number of new HIV infections continues to fall. There were 2.3 million new HIV infections in 2012. This is the lowest number of annual new infections since the mid-to-late 1990s.
In fact, UNAIDS reports that the number of HIV infections declined by more than 50 percent in 26 countries between 2001 and 2012, and between 25 percent and 49 percent in an additional 17 countries.
Additionally, access to treatment has become more widely available and affordable. The cost of first line antiretroviral therapy in some low- and middle-income countries has been reduced to around $140 USD per person per year. In the mid 1990’s the average cost was around $10,000 USD per person per year.
As a result, the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined each year from a high of 2.3 million in 2005 to 1.6 million in 2012.
Article continues belowIn the United States, an estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and about 50,000 people get HIV each year, according to the CDC. Recent data indicates that 1 in 4 (26 percent) of new HIV infections occur in youth, between the ages of 13-24.
But even as infection rates decline, the public’s level of awareness of their very real risk for contracting HIV wanes. Stigma continues to prove as deadly as the disease itself, keeping people from getting tested and treated for HIV/AIDS.
According to a 2010 study by the CDC, nearly one in five gay and bisexual men in 21 major U.S. cities are infected with HIV, and the majority of new infections are spread by people who are unaware of their own status.
In total, the CDC estimates that about 18 percent of Americans living with HIV do not know they are infected.