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Timeline: AIDS Epidemic

Key events, important people, activism and breakthroughs

by David Johnson and Shmuel Ross
1981-1995 1996-1998 1999-2000 2001-2003 2004-2005 2006-2011

1996

Patients are often able to delay the onset of full-blown AIDS by taking a combination of as many as 60 different drugs called an AIDS "cocktail"

AIDS is 8th leading cause of death in U.S.

1997

Worldwide death toll climbs to 6.5 million (since mid-1970s)

U.S. government spends $4.5 billion on AIDS/HIV treatment

AIDS-related illnesses drop to the fifth leading cause of death for adults 25-44 years old

1998

Clinical trials begin for AIDS vaccine, AIDSVAX, the only one of 40 AIDS vaccines developed since 1987, that is considered promising enough to widely test on human volunteers

U.S. AIDS deaths drop to 17,000 per year, due to drug therapies; AIDS drops to 14th leading cause of death in U.S.

1999

AIDS cases in Russia rise by one-third, to 360,000

World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that AIDS has caused the life expectancy in Southern Africa to drop from 59 years in the early 1990s to 45 years after 2005

AIDS infections skyrocket in Southeast Asia

U.S. government spends $6.9 billion on AIDS/HIV treatment

2000

Officials note the spread of drug-resistant strains of HIV

21.8 million people have died of AIDS since the late 1970s; infections rise in Eastern Europe, Russia, India, and Southeast Asia

10% of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 has HIV/AIDS in 16 African countries, while in 7 African countries, infection rates reach 20%

2001

Drug companies begin offering AIDS drugs to poor countries at a discount

An estimated $6.9 billion is spent in the U.S. on the treatment of AIDS patients

The UN estimates that, around the world during 2001, there were 3 million deaths from AIDS, of which 2.3 million were in Sub-Saharan Africa. There were 5 million new infections, bringing the total to 40 million infected; and Africa has the most infected (more than 16 million) followed by South and Southeast Asia (more than 6 million).

AIDS is spreading most rapidly in Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation, with 250,000 new infections in 2001

AIDS has lowered the life expectancy in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, and Swaziland by 20 years, to under 40 years of age

2002

HIV is the leading cause of death worldwide for those 15–59

FDA approves the first rapid finger-prick AIDS test

2003

President Bush announces PEPFAR, a $15-billion, 5-year plan to combat AIDS in African and Carribean nations

WHO announces the "3 by 5" initiative, aiming to start providing AIDS drugs to 3 million people in poor countries by 2005

2004

AIDS spreads rapidly in Russia and eastern Europe; according to a UN survey, almost 1% of Russians are HIV-positive

FDA approves a saliva-based AIDS test

A study finds that the rate of HIV prevalence in Uganda has dropped 70% since the early 1990s, due to local prevention efforts

95% of those with AIDS live in the developing world

From 1981 through the end of 2004, more than 20 million people have died of AIDS

2005

FDA begins approving generic AIDS drugs, enabling U.S.-funded programs to provide more cost-effective treatment to poorer nations

Several African nations insist on medication approved by WHO; in response, FDA and WHO agree to share information on generic drugs to expedite their approval

Russian president Putin promised to increase AIDS funding from $5 million in 2005 to at least $100 million in 2006

AZT's patent expires, and FDA approves several generic versions

The number of people living with HIV in 2005 reached its highest level ever—an estimated 40.3 million people, nearly half of them women.

2006

June 5 marks the 25th anniversary of the first journal article (in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) about what would become identified as AIDS, reporting on a set of unusual pneumonia-related deaths among five homosexual men.

A UN report issued the week before has both good news and bad news.

Good news: Many countries have achieved targets set in 2001, reducing the number of new infections and providing antiretroviral therapy to more victims. HIV testing, counseling, and education are all up. In many sub-Saharan countries, more young teens are staying abstinent, and condom use is increasing. And with 126 nations reporting, investigators have more data than ever.

Bad news: Goals for youth education and prevention services aren’t being met, those most at risk for AIDS are often not reached, many countries fell far short of all goals, and social issues underlying the spread of AIDS are being ignored.

In short, "A quarter century into the epidemic, the global AIDS response stands at a crossroads. For the first time ever the world possesses the means to begin to reverse the epidemic. But success will require unprecedented willingness on the part of all actors in the global response to fulfil their potential, to embrace new ways of working with each other, and to . . . sustain the response over the long term."

July 2006: The FDA approves the first single-pill, once-a-day AIDS treatment, thereby allowing patients to manage their disease without a complicated regimen of drugs that must be strictly followed to be effective. The pill, called Atripla, is considered an enormous breakthrough in AIDS treatment, and will help prevent the disease from mutating into drug-resistant strains, which occurs when drugs are not taken regularly. Two rival drug companies cooperated in creating the drug.

2007

The World Health Organization revises their figures of the number of people living with AIDS worldwide. In their December 2007 report, the WHO says the number has fallen from 39.5 million to 33.2 million in one year, suggesting that the biggest reason for the 16% decline was improved data collection and more accurate estimates in India and five sub-Saharan African countries.

2008

An international team of researchers announced that new evidence shows the earliest cases of HIV/AIDS circulating between humans occured between 1884 and 1924 in sub-Saharan Africa. Tracking the origin of the virus will help in understanding how it jumped from chimpanzees to humans, as well as increasing our knowledge of the conditions that help viruses spread and how to be better prepared for other epidemics. See this article for more information.

A man in Berlin, Germany seems to be cured of AIDS after doctors gave him transplanted blood stem cells from a person naturally resistant to the virus. Such a treatment is difficult, the patient's immune system must essentially be shut down and restarted with the new stem cells, but first a donor must be found who is a good tissue match for the patient and has a rare genetic mutation, called Delta 32, which is resistant to H.I.V. People who have Delta 32 produce white blood cells in the bone marrow which lack the surface receptors that allow H.I.V. to invade the immune system. Doctors hope this case helps in developing therapies that artificially induce the Delta 32 mutation.

2009

President Obama removes the 22-year-old travel ban that prevented HIV-positive people from entering the United States.

Four million HIV-positive people in developing and transitional countries are receiving treatments, but over 9 million still need immediate treatment.

2011

Elizabeth Taylor, cofounder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), dies. One of the first public personalities to devote time and money toward HIV and AIDS-related projects and charities, she helps raise over $100 million and expand public awareness in her thirty years as an AIDS activist.

In September, gamers of the free online game Foldit create the correct structure of a protein that the virus HIV uses to replicate itself. With this breakthrough, published in Nature as "Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players," not only is the usefulness of the citizen scientist validated, but a real-world scientific problem is also solved. The discovery paves the way for new antiretroviral drugs in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

2014

The medical community announces the curing of an infant of an HIV infection. In a 2010 birth, a Mississippi baby exposed to HIV was treated aggressively with antiretroviral drugs starting almost immediately after delivery. The baby, now 2 1/2 years old, remains infection free.



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