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35th Anniversary of AIDS: Federal Leaders Reflect

In advance of the 35th anniversary this Sunday, June 5, of the first reported cases of what would become known as AIDS in the United States, AIDS.gov sat down with two federal leaders in our response to HIV/AIDS to hear their reflections on this milestone.

Despite Advances, HIV Stigma Still Impedes Progress

In her reflection, Dr. Amy Lansky, Acting Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), observed that the advances of the past three-and-a-half decades of fighting HIV are integrated into the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which is our national roadmap to addressing HIV.

These advances include an expanded HIV prevention toolbox, improved access to healthcare coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, modernized recommendations for HIV treatment and routine HIV testing, and making improving outcomes along the HIV care continuum a priority.  HIV-related stigma, however, still impedes the possible. Dr. Lansky called upon all of us to fight these negative attitudes that prevent too many people from seeking HIV testing and treatment. Doing so, she affirmed, is one of the most important things we can do to end the HIV epidemic.

Collaborations to Deploy Scientific Advances Key to Progress

Dr. Richard Wolitski, Acting Director of the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP), reflected on the toll that HIV/AIDS has taken in the United States and around the world, as well as on important progress that has been made in the response to HIV/AIDS over the past 35 years.

He noted, that much of the progress has been the result of scientific breakthroughs such as HIV testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and antiretroviral treatment. But Dr. Wolitski underscored that it hasn’t been science alone that has altered the course of the HIV epidemic in the United States. The infections averted and lives saved have been the result of many sectors of society coming together to make sure that these important scientific advances were deployed effectively to the people who needed them.

“If we all do our part, we can stop marking these milestones, we can stop counting the infections, we can stop adding up the deaths. And we can look back on HIV as something that’s a part of our past and part of our history—but not a part of our future,” he concluded.

NIH’s Dr. Fauci Reflects on 35 Years of Responding to AIDS

In another video released today by NIH, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared his reflections on learning of those first case reports and his experience in seeing patients at that time.

The prognosis for people diagnosed with HIV today is “night and day” compared to then, he observes. “What has happened from then to now,” he concludes, “is one of the most extraordinary accomplishments of biomedical research.”

The Anniversary

On June 5, 1981 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describing cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles. All the men have other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems are not working; two have already died by the time the report is published. This edition of the MMWR marks the first official reporting of what will become known as the AIDS epidemic.

On June 5, the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times reported on the MMWR. On June 6, the San Francisco Chronicle covered the story. Within days, doctors from across the U.S. flooded CDC with reports of similar cases.

Read more about milestones in the 35-year history of HIV/AIDS in the AIDS.gov Timeline of HIV/AIDS.