The Aids Pandemic: The How and Why of Where We Are Today

Published: 2021-06-29 07:10:08
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The AIDS Pandemic: The how and why of where we are today
Christian MacMillan
Crisis Communication Management - MSL-5200
Dr. Richard Bell
9 November, 2010
HIV/AIDS - The Long Road
100,000,000. That is the projected death toll from HIV/AIDS by the year 2025 - in Africa alone. The disease, or related complications, has already claimed 25 million lives since June 5, 1981 and infected another 40 million others (Leonard, 2006) averaging over 2361 deaths per day. No other single disease in history has caused this level of devastation. Nor has any other disease caused as much controversy, pitting social advocates from different ideological camps against one another while causing the medical community to raise its hands in despair, unable to find a cure.
Scientists have traced the origins of HIV/AIDS to a death in 1959 in Kimshasha, Republic of Congo, where an African tribesman died of a mysterious death (Krieger, 1998). To this date, it remains the first known human death from HIV/AIDS. Scientists have long known the disease originated in chimpanzees, but still do not know what caused it to make the leap to humans. There is speculation it was transmitted through the food chain; African tribes included monkeys and chimpanzees in their dietary menu. Those chimpanzees carried the original virus, Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV). Scientists have used the blood sample from the African tribesman to determine the likely timeframe the jump was made, based on the known mutation rate. That knowledge has led them to calculate the jump occurred in the 1940's or early 1950's. Those same calculations, used on cases discovered later, indicate HIV/AIDS likely arrived in the United States in 1968, yet it remained unrecognized as a disease for another 12 years. The irony of the situation is we can calculate the timeline of the mutation from a relatively harmless disease in monkeys to perhaps the most dangerous disease the human race has ever been exposed to, yet 51 years later we still cannot seem to staunch the death toll.
All this brings us to 1980. Ken Horne has the dubious honor of being the first recognized case of HIV/AIDS in the United States. There were a total of 4 deaths in 1980 attributed to HIV/AIDS. Over the next decade the deaths in the US were as follows (Aids Timeline, 2006):
1981 234 Deaths
1982 853 Deaths
1983 2,304 Deaths
1984 4,251 Deaths
1985 5,636 Deaths
1986 2,960 Deaths
1987 4,135 Deaths
1988 4,855 Deaths
1989 14,455 Deaths

During this period, a number of high profile items occurred highlighting the growing epidemic (24 Years of AIDS, n.d.). Rock Hudson admitted he was gay and had AIDS; he died within a year. Ryan White, a 13-year old hemophiliac was barred from attending public school because he had HIV/AIDS, but not before becoming the poster-child for the growing stigma attached to the disease; he died at 19. The Mayor of San Francisco had the bath houses, a popular gathering place for the city's gay men, closed as a preventive measure; it was highly unpopular and fueled the "lifestyle" debate swirling around the virus and its predominance in gay men. Two popular plays, "The Normal Heart" and "And The Band Played On" were written and produced on Broadway. The US Surgeon General recommended the use of condoms and sex education as the best means of prevention and mailed AIDS information to every US household. The efforts of medical researchers led to the development of Azidothymidine (AZT) as a treatment; extremely expensive, within one year the cost was driven down by 20% due to protests by the activist group, ACT UP. By the end of the decade, there was at least one case of HIV/AIDS reported in every region of the world, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to designate and organize the first World AIDs Day on December 1, 1988.

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