In less than two months, we will mark the 30th anniversary of the first reported cases of what we now know as AIDS. In June 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a rare form of pneumonia diagnosed in five, previously healthy, gay men from Los Angeles. The report raised concerns that these five men had been exposed to something that caused their profound immune suppression. Now we know that their disease resulted from infection with HIV.
As we mark this significant milestone, we solemnly mourn the more than 600,000 Americans who have lost their lives to HIV disease. But we also honor, with pride, the men, women, and young people who have made important contributions to 30 years of fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States and around the world. And certainly we celebrate the substantial advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment that have been made in the past three decades. Although our journey hasn’t finished, we’ve come a very long way since those early days when so much was unknown about this deadly new disease.
Perhaps, most importantly, this observance will prompt each of us to consider how we can extend and enhance our individual and collective responses to the epidemic so that it does not persist for another 30 years. For the first time we have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) that all of us can use as a game-plan to better focus and coordinate our individual and organizational efforts. The Strategy was informed by our 30 years of experience with HIV/AIDS. Achieving its goals — reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to HIV care, improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related health disparities — requires the active participation of all sectors of society. This includes not only local, state, tribal and federal governments, but also businesses, faith communities, philanthropy, the scientific and medical communities, educational institutions, people living with HIV, and many others.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to do so, I encourage you to read the Strategy and other information about its implementation available on AIDS.gov. Being familiar with the details of the Strategy will provide you with an even stronger foundation for engaging in efforts to enhance the HIV prevention, care and treatment, and stigma reduction activities that may be underway in your community. And if these efforts are not taking place in your community, the Strategy can suggest principles and priorities against which to assess current activities as well as opportunities to bring together new partners to help make that happen.
A number of activities are being planned in recognition of this 30-year milestone. Shortly, AIDS.gov will post a page so you can follow the commemorative activities planned by various Federal government agencies.
After 30 years of HIV/AIDS, we need to recognize how far we have come but, at the same time, continue to commit ourselves to accomplishing what remains to be done. Then, we will truly achieve the vision of the NHAS:
“The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”