How Deadly is AIDS Today?

It’s been 36 years since the AIDs epidemic began decimating communities in the U.S. October marks AIDS Awareness Month. And while Ronald Regan is responsible for designating this month AIDS Awareness, he and his administration are heavily criticized for waiting too long to take action once the brutal infection started spreading.

In 1981, hundreds of people started showing HIV symptoms, which quickly grew to millions within a few years, but it wasn’t until 1987 that Azido-Thymidine or HZT, the first medication to slow the progress of HIV and reduce the risk of it developing into AIDS, was approved.

Within that time frame, thousands of people died – in most cases young, gay men in their 20s and 30s.

While much progress has been made in preventing and treating AIDS since, no one has come up with a way to eliminate it. To this day, HIV and AIDS remains a problem, both in the U.S. and around the world.

How Did AIDS Get Started?

Scientists have identified a type of chimpanzee in Central Africa as the likely origin of HIV infection in humans. They believe that the chimp version of the immunodeficiency virus mutated into HIV when people hunted the animals for meat and thus came in contact with their infected blood, possibly as long ago as the 1800s.

Since then, the virus has slowly spread across Africa and into other countries. 

After the epidemic hit in the early 1980s, scientists slowly started to recognize that it was primarily transmitted through sex between men, and that drug users and people receiving blood transfusions were also at risk. But it took a long time before the medical world and the federal government took any action.

Larry-Kramer

Larry Kramer, author of “The Normal Heart”  |  Photo Credit: By David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Angered at the refusal of pharmaceutical companies or the government to respond to the epidemic, New York writer Larry Kramer (seen above) was instrumental in bringing the crisis to the attention of the public, founding the organization “Act Up” and writing the Tony- and Emmy-award-winning work “The Normal Heart.”

At Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California, where I was a beginning teacher in 1987, one of the most beloved teachers on campus was Steve Morgan, an openly gay man and the middle school principal. 

Steve succumbed to AIDS and had to take sick leave, but a few months before his death, the school surprised him by bringing him back to campus in an open-top car where he was greeted by the entire school community as we unveiled our new middle school building, named in his honor. There was not a dry eye to be seen.

35 Million Deaths From AIDS

According to the World Health Organization, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus since the beginning of the epidemic, and about half of those have died.

In the U.S. in 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV, a nine percent decline from 2010. But the numbers vary in sub-groups. The most heavily affected sub-population is African-American gay men, followed by gay white men and gay Hispanic-Latino men. In the U.S., 6,721 people died from HIV and AIDS in 2014. 

Around the world, HIV continues to be a huge health problem, with about 1.8 million new cases in 2016.

About 36.7 million people are living with HIV, according to last year’s count, although the numbers vary tremendously between countries and continents.

Globally, around one million people died from AIDS-related illnesses last year, with countries in sub-Saharan Africa bearing the heaviest burden.

There is still no cure for aids, but you can learn more about how to help at Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, ONEThe Global Fund and UNAIDS.

Photo Credit: thinkstock

46 comments

Veronica Danie
Veronica D2 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D2 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D2 months ago

Thank you so very much.

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s2 months ago

Thank you

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s2 months ago

Thank you

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Hannah A
Past Member 2 months ago

Thanks for the update.

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Christina S
Christina S2 months ago

Goes without saying that people must behave responsibly when it comes to their sex lives. If you're gonna have sex with people you barely know (or at least don't know their history), condoms are a must. Safe sex should be a priority because all it takes it one idiot decision, to change things forever. STD testing should be part of a person's yearly physical, especially if sexually active with multiple partners. Always better to be safe than sorry!

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R3 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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