Living With HIV – Then and Now

When AIDS was first recognized in the early 1980s, the country and much of the world was gripped by fear of this relatively unknown disease that was infecting and killing thousands. In 1986, there were more than 38,000 reported cases of AIDS around the world. By 1990, more than 8 million people worldwide were living with HIV – the disease determined to cause AIDS. By the late 90s, that number ballooned to more than 22 million. But, as research into HIV/AIDS progressed, the outlook for those living with HIV and the perception of the world both began to change for the better.

living with HIV 300x199 Living With HIV   Then and Now Photo

Medical advancements in HIV/AIDS research have drastically extended patients’ life expectancy.

Here’s a look at how HIV/AIDS has changed over the past 30 years:

Before 1970s

  • HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) probably transfers to humans in Africa between 1884 and 1924.
  • HIV probably enters Haiti around 1966.


  • HIV probably enters the United States around 1970.
  • Western scientists and doctors remain ignorant of the growing epidemic.


  • AIDS is detected in the US and Europe, first among gay men, then injecting drug users.
  • The name “AIDS” – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – is created.
  • Community organizations in the UK and USA promote safer sex among gay men.
  • AIDS is reported among non-drug using women and children.
  • Experts become more confident that the cause of AIDS is infectious.
  • Three thousand AIDS cases have been reported in the USA; one thousand have died.
  • Scientists identify HIV as the cause of AIDS.
  • An HIV test is licensed for screening blood supplies.
  • AIDS is found in China, and has therefore been seen in all regions of the world.
  • More than 38,000 cases of AIDS have been reported from 85 countries.
  • AZT is the first drug approved for treating AIDS.


  • Around 8 million people are living with HIV worldwide, according to estimates made later.
  • AZT is shown to be of no benefit to those in the early stages of HIV infection, but is shown to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission; use of AZT leads to drop in infant HIV infections in developed countried.
  • Combination antiretroviral treatment is shown to be highly effective against HIV. In developed countries, many people begin taking the new treatment.
  • AIDS deaths begin to decline in developed countries due to the new drugs.
  • Around 22 million people are living with HIV worldwide, according to estimates made later.

Early 2000s

  • AIDS drugs become more affordable for developing countries.
  • The first HIV vaccine candidate to undergo a major trial is found to be ineffective.
  • Circumcision is shown to reduce HIV infection among heterosexual men.
  • 28 percent of people in developing countries who need treatment for HIV are receiving it.
  • Around 33 million people are living with HIV, according to revised estimates.
  • Another major HIV vaccine trial is halted after preliminary results show no benefit.


  • A clinical trial in Thailand named RV144 demonstrates for the first time that a regimen of AIDS vaccine candidates can prevent HIV infection.
  • Two novel broadly neutralizing antibodies are discovered with the broadest and most potent neutralizing activity seen to date, leading to the identification of a vulnerable spot on the highly complex HIV virus.
  • 4 million people in developing and transitional countries are receiving treatment for HIV; 9.5 million are still in immediate need of treatment.


  • A microbicide gel is hailed a success after trial results show it reduced the risk of HIV infection by 40 percent.
  • Another trial of a drug taken by men before potential HIV exposure shows a reduction in HIV acquisition among those men the trial participants have sex with.


  • Researchers isolate and analyze scores of 17 new broadly neutralizing antibodies from HIV positive people around the world, leading to the recognition of novel binding sites on the HIV outer spike protein which represent new targets for potential HIV vaccines.
  • Trial results show that early initiation of antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of HIV transmission by 96 percent among couples.
  • FDA approval of Complera, the second all-in-one fixed dose combination tablet, expands the treatment options available for people living with HIV.


  • Truvada, a drug already used as an HIV treatment, is approved by the FDA for use as a preventative measure against HIV infection in at-risk people.
  • The FDA approves OraQuick, the first over-the-counter, at-home HIV test.
Today, there have been cases of patients being functionally cured of HIV after being treated with antiretroviral therapy. And with new medical advancements continuing to be made, adults who adhere to their recommended medical treatments often have a normal life expectancy.
To learn more about treatment options, questions to ask at a doctor appointment, and more, read the Vitals HIV/AIDS Patient Guide.
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