Let’s talk about HIV

It’s pride month so I wanted to take a look at the progress we’ve made and how far our language and attitudes toward HIV/AIDS have come. To do this I’ve made a timeline highlighting how HIV/AIDS became one of the biggest diseases worldwide in a decade.

HIV is a virus that attacks a person’s immune cells that can lead to a disease named AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, it is categorised by the failure of a person’s immune system which leaves them vulnerable to infections. It is important to note that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. A person is described as HIV positive if they have been infected with the HIV virus. A person with AIDS suffers from an immune deficiency, as a result of their HIV infection.


Reports of severe immune deficiency reported in gay men in the USA. These are the first reports of this disease in America.


The term GRID, gay-related immune deficiency, is coined to describe a disease that had been recorded in up to 50 gay men across the USA. These men were dying of aggressive forms of cancer and rare lung disease that healthy immune systems are able to fight off. This is also the year that AIDS was being reported in Europe and East Africa.


The term AIDS is now used to describe the immune deficiency after the disease was present in haemophiliacs, females and children. The presence of AIDS in females proved that it was not a ‘gay’ disease whilst its presence in children started to cause mass hysteria around how AIDS is contracted.


A combination of two viruses is announced as the cause of AIDS, HTVL-III/LAV. The public are told not to share needles and avoid injecting drugs. This is the first attempt to inform the public about how AIDS is spread.


The US start screening blood banks for evidence of infected blood by testing for antibodies. A teenager in the US who acquired AIDS through a blood transfusion to treat his haemophilia is banned from attending school. Officials start taking mother to child transmission very seriously. All regions of the world have reported cases of AIDS.


HIV is identified as the cause of AIDS.


Global Program on AIDS is launched by WHO. It is now estimated that there are between 5 and 10 million people living with HIV worldwide.


December 1st is declared as World AIDS Day in order to raise awareness about what it’s like living with AIDS.


In the early 90’s the estimated number of people living with HIV is somewhere between 8 and 10 million whilst the number of people living with AIDS is reported as 2.5 million globally. In 1991 Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen, died of AIDS. By the late 90’s, 30 million people were living with HIV and 14 million people had lost their lives to AIDS.

Last 20 years

The past two decades has seen the biggest development in the treatment of HIV/AIDS with millions of pounds being used to fund research every year. There is now an antiretroviral tablet that can be taken once a day to treat HIV. Just over half of HIV positive people globally have access to antiretroviral treatment. The travel ban, banning HIV positive people entering the USA was lifted in 2010. Anti-stigma campaigns have been launched by many organisations to try and combat the stigma surrounding HIV particularly focusing on homophobia.

Today, the fight against HIV/AIDS isn’t over. More people than ever are living with HIV in the UK, although with treatment, it is unlikely that they will develop AIDS. Despite efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV, many people are still unaware of how HIV is contracted. The LGBTQ community is the most affected by this stigma and we are all responsible for reducing the stigma surrounding HIV and we can do this by talking about it and being aware of how we can stay protected.

Positive East is a great organisation that provide HIV awareness workshops, rapid HIV testing as well as counselling and community outreach. You can access their clinic located next to Stepney Green station. Alternatively, you can visit their website for more details and support. (https://www.positiveeast.org.uk/)

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