AIDS: Past, Present and Future

Doctors identified the first cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) among the gays in America. They designated it as the gay-related immune deficiency but later, specialists discovered that the disease had existed even a couple of years before. However, research shows that the origin of both types of HIV originated from Africa, and it was transmitted from one species to another. Scientists contend that transmission from chimpanzee to man occurred for type 1 and the spread of the disease from mangabeys to human beings occurred for type 2. The enormous bang occurred when scientists reported several cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma and Pneumocystis carinii in Los Angeles and New York in 1981. Shortly after, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began to track an expending population of adults and children with compromised immune system. Later in 1982, scientists began to term the disease as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). For some people, the awareness started when the CDC published an article on June 5, 1981 (Darrow, 2006). Since this time, AIDS has grown from a national to an international phenomenon, and scientists have made variety of discoveries to increase human understanding of how to fight the disease.

Discovery of the Causative Agent

In 1982, cases of AIDS began to be reported about in fifteen nations. A short time later, the Centers for Disease Control received the first report of AIDS in a hemophilic patient and newborns delivered to mothers with the disease. Coincidently, the scientists discovered that there was a connection between AIDS and blood transfusion. While blood transfusion was vital, it had associated risks. For example, the Centers for Disease Control sampled blood for transfusion, and a number of tested samples were positive for HIV (Goedert, 2010). During this time, blood donors were the most fundamental providers of blood supply as more that 215 million components were transfused in America.

In 1983, Dr. Montagnier (then working for the French Pasteur Institute) announced another discovery: the isolation of Lymphadenopathy associated virus (LAV). Scientists identified this virus as the causative agent for AIDS. Later in 1983, more than thirty countries reported isolated cases of AIDS. In 1984, on the other side of Atlantic, National Cancer Institute of Dr. Gallo isolated the Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus III (HTLV-III retrovirus). Various periodicals, including the Journal for the American Medical Association, began to identify the retrovirus as the causative agent for AIDS. In 1986, scientists made another discovery that revealed that LAV and HTLV-III represented the same virus. They designated it as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). In 1987, American actor Rock Hudson died of the AIDS-related disease, and it was a crucial moment when the awareness of AIDS entered the public domain (Mann, 2009).

After the death of Hudson, several other celebrities succumbed to AIDS. These included Robert Reed, Amanda Blake and Anthony Perkins. However, one thing disturbed the scientists; while some people died of AIDS, others died of associated diseases, such as throat cancer and pneumonia. This brought the question whether AIDS caused other complications. Scientists later discovered that AIDS weakens the immune system, thereby making the host cells prone to opportunistic infections. Afterwards, they would name this discovery as immunosuppression. Scientists also listed some opportunistic infections, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, Pneumocystis pneumonia, Herpes simplex and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Another actor who witnessed the death of thousands of Americans was President Ronald Reagan. Armed with the knowledge that AIDS was slowly spreading and threatening the health of a nation and that scientists were yet to discover a cure, he recommended routine testing for the disease. By this time, over 30,000 people succumbed to AIDS and more than 60,000 had full-blown AIDS. Reagan directed the surgeon general to prepare a report for Americans and advise them on prevention. He spent nine months preparing for this report and sending it via email to over 107 million households. This is the largest health mailing that the government has ever done. However, Americans came to know the risk behaviors that would lead to HIV AIDS owing to this detailed report (Hyme, 2005).

Discovery of ART

In March 1987, GlaxoSmithKline Company manufactured zidovudine (AZT), a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, and this was the first antiretroviral drug. The Food and Drug Administration approved this drug the same year. Zidovudine prevents the virus by altering the deoxyribonucleic acid of a healthy T-cell. However, the drug must be combined with other medications. One key shortcoming of the drug is that it causes mutations in the structure of immune system, thereby reducing its potency and efficacy in the fight against HIV. The following month, Princess Diana opened a special ward for AIDS victims at Middlesex Hospital in London. She became a new ambassador for HIV victims and created awareness; her interaction with the infectees made the public improve their understanding of AIDS. She also established the Red Ribbon Foundation in 1993 with an aim to educate and carry out researches on AIDS. This deed also promoted the awareness of AIDS.   

In 1990, a nineteen-year-old died of AIDS, having contracted it while undergoing a transfusion for treatment of hemophilia. When the school’s administration discovered that the teenager was suffering, it expelled him on the basis that he created a health risk for others. He later became a pivotal figure in spreading information on AIDS and creating awareness. Upon his death, The American Congress passed public law to assist the healthcare delivery system to provide care to AIDS victims. The campaign against AIDS emphasized that HIV testing is the first step in health education to determine if one is infected or not. The test identifies the presence of antibodies against HIV. While blood tests are the oldest known HIV tests, newer tests can identify the presence of antibodies in the saliva, urine or mucosal fluid. The antibodies are present in the immune system of the diseased within two to three months after infection, and the tests are over 99 percent accurate (Daniel, 2004). Good nutrition and healthy diet help the body to fight HIV.

In 1993, a medical doctor and a historian, Alan Cantwell, published a book Queer Blood. The book carried a conspiracy theory of a genocide plot created by some people against blacks and gays. Though people living with HIV/AIDS need to cope with the situation instead of trying to understand the theory, Dr. Cantwell did his work. He attempted to construct the most plausible sequence of events that evoked the understanding of the gays. He contended that there was a conspiracy to destroy the gay and the black community with help of genetically engineered virus. Though critics dismissed this theory, several queries remain unanswered yet. The fact that AIDS epidemic began at the same time with hepatitis B vaccine trials in early 80s remains a thorny issue. In addition, the African AIDS began at the same time with small pox eradication program. Research shows that scientists introduced HIV right after the testing of Hepatitis B vaccine. The belief is that specialists introduced a vaccine containing lethal agents with an aim of reducing the number of gays and blacks (Goedert, 2010). There is no connection between the disease prevalence in African heterosexual community and its transmission in white gay community. 

Discovery of the Origin of HIV 1

In 1999, scientists from the University of Alabama discovered the origin of HIV-1. This solved a twenty-year puzzle concerning the beginning of the epidemic. In the research, the scientists identified a chimpanzee species that is native to West Africa as the reservoir for the virus. This discovery traced the transmission of the virus to the hunters who depended on chimpanzees for the source food.

Quest for a Vaccine

Between 2000 and 2004, over 40 million of people were living with AIDS, and approximately all of them would die within the following twenty years. Moreover, over 94 per cent of new infections occurred in the developing countries. While prevention slowed the spread, it did not annihilate it. To add salt to the wound, treatment plans and modalities are pretty expensive and complex, which brings along side effects and resistance. There was a belief that the possibility to eradicate small pox could turn into a chance to eradicate AIDS. This would be one of the world’s greatest achievements.

With the spread of the disease showing no signs of reduction, the need for a new vaccine came in handy. In 2003, VaxGen Company announced initial outcomes from its three-year multinational, randomized, placebo-controlled trials of AIDS vaccine. Though the primary endpoint was to record a significant reduction of AIDS, the company did not achieve the goal. This failure was consistent with the failure of other vaccines. Towards the end of the same year, another trial was going to be done in South Africa, a country where 10 per cent of the citizens were suffering. This trial would contain a genetic material from the strain of HIV that is most prevalent in the country. Scientists predicted that even if the tests were successful, it would take several years for an effective vaccine to be available for distribution.

In 2005, Wired News posted an article to the effect that an answer to the problem could be near. Researchers from the University of Illinois and Rush University discovered a strain of a bacterium that was bound to the surface of HIV. They argued that the bacterium uses sugar as food, and HIV would be its target. The strains of this bacterium reside in the vaginal and oral cavities. These strains keep under the virus by eating the sugar and blocking infection. However, such results could be observed in the laboratory. They believed that if they found the natural bacterium, they could control the spread of HIV in a cost-effective manner. However, the work is yet to be tested in a natural environment and, as such, it is not a time to celebrate (Gottlieb, 2009).

Current Understanding of AIDS

In the early 80s, there was hardly an opportunity for people to understand or comprehend the difference between AIDS and HIV. Such unawareness existed because most victims sought help when they already reached the acute stages of AIDS. Before the mid-80s, people started to gain a dependable understanding of the disease. New drug treatments and highly active antiretroviral therapy became available in 1996. This discovery reduced the mortality rate (Gottlieb, 2009).

Currently, most people do not think of the disease as a death sentence as they saw it before the discovery of HAART. Another generation has grown up with an awareness of AIDS, but they fail to be in tune with the incredible stigma that previously existed. For instance, a primary financial source for HIV programs in America owes its existence to Ryan who contracted from blood transfusion. People relate part of the stigma to perception of a disparity between the people who get infected out of their behavior and the innocent victims. For example, a child gets infected from his or her pregnant mother or a blood transfusion as in the case of Ryan White (Shearer, 2007). However, AIDS stigma remains a reality in several cultures. For example, people living with AIDS in China face stigma and widespread discrimination.

Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses are declining because of an ever-improving funding on timely medical care. The drugs have increased the longevity, and HIV patients tend to lead a healthy lifestyle. Though a huge percentage of patients in Africa suffer from AIDS, most of them are not aware of this problem, which leads to spread of the virus. Another reminder of AIDS in Africa is the high number of orphans resulting from HIV and other related deaths. Therefore, while the situation is balanced in America, it is unbearable and almost overwhelming in Africa.


For over thirty years since the detection of the first case of HIV, the roadmap for the future has been full of uncertainties. For scientists and organizations, it has been a journey of discoveries and attempts. Some of them appear to be successful while others culminate in hopelessness and despair. Apparently, it has been a lesson that commanded attention of many people all over the globe. In every corner of the world, people were discussing – first in whispers and then openly – the disease and the associated stigma. Currently, a dishonor becomes weaker as people establish an open-minded view on AIDS. Nevertheless, the future is uncertain more than ever. The trials to test the vaccines are in progress, and the results will determine people’s opinion about AIDS (Mann, 2004). If the vaccines are successful, AIDS will probably suffer the same fate as small pox. If experimentation is not successful, people will continue to approach the issue with caution. One of the ways to success is to become open and welcoming to the infected, so that AIDS will be perceived just as any other disease.

In conclusion, the existence of AIDS has dealt a devastating blow to the entire world. Nonetheless, as the viewpoints discussed above show, various personalities as well as organizations have worked hard in an attempt to demystify the disease and find a cure to it. While they have succeeded in the reduction of fear and stigma, they are yet to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease. Trials are underway to test the potency of a new vaccine. Nowadays, people are open to take the issue of AIDS without apprehension or stigma. Despite all advantages, the future still remains uncertain.

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