It's National HIV Testing Day: A Timeline Of The AIDs Epidemic

While we've come an extremely long way, we still have a ways to go.

aids fight

Today, June 27th, is National HIV Testing Day.

The evolution of both AIDS awareness, and the stigma attached to it, have come a long way. Once dubbed the "gay cancer," as many thought it to be only confined to the gay community, HIV and AIDS can infect anyone.

AIDS does not care about your sexuality, gender or ethnicity; without proper protection during sex, we are all at risk.

Originally established in 1995, the day of HIV health awareness has resulted in more and more HIV testing sites popping up every year to administer the test free of charge.


Since the first case of what would eventually be known as AIDS was reported in the U.S. in 1981, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.7 million have been infected with HIV in the years that followed. The CDC also estimates that over a million people are currently living with HIV in the States, and one in five are unaware of their HIV status. If that doesn't convince you to reach for a condom next time you have sex, then nothing will.

In honor of this year's National HIV Testing Day, let's take a look at the evolution of the disease and the milestones that came with the fight along the way.


1959-1976: You may not realize it, but HIV-1 was detected as far back as 1959 in a Congolese man (his blood had been preserved for future testing), then again in a Congolese woman in 1960. In 1976, a Norwegian sailor, alias Arvid Noe, his wife, and daughter died of AIDS; a fact that was confirmed after tissue samples of the family had been tested in 1988. Noe had been exhibiting symptoms since 1969.

1977: Grethe Rask, a Danish surgeon who worked in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), died of AIDS-related pneumonia, making she and the Noe family the only non-Africans to have died from the disease up until that point.

1981-1982: June 5, 1981 is considered, by the CDC, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It was also at this time that the name of the disease shifted from GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) after extensive research discovered that "nearly half of the people identified with the syndrome were not homosexual men." This was a major step after "patient zero," Canadian flight attendant and gay man, Gaëtan Dugas, had been so closely associated with the mass spread of the disease due to his highly sexual activity and his either lack of knowledge of his status, or lack of care — both are still up for debate.

1982: On December 10th, the first known case of AIDS being contracted via a blood transfusion was discovered when an infant in California became sick with the disease.


1983: The CDC established the National AIDS Hotline where people could anonymously ask questions about the disease. This same year, "high risk" groups, such as gays and intravenous drug users, are told they are no longer allowed to donate blood.

1984: Ryan White, a hemophiliac, contracted the AIDS virus during an operation. Since he was just a kid and still in school, he was immediately expelled because of his illness. However, after much fighting, White was eventually admitted back into school. His bravery made him a national hero, and before long he was buddies with Michael Jackson and Elton John, among many other celebrities who supported him.

1985: Screening of all blood donations was set in place, and Rock Hudson, the first celebrity to publicly announce that he had AIDS, dies. On November 11th of that year, the first movie tackling the AIDS topic, An Early Frost, premieres on NBC starring Aidan Quinn and Gena Rowlands.

1986: President Reagan, although he had yet to publicly address the AIDS epidemic, instructed Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to compile a report on the epidemic. It was also determined by the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases that one million Americans had already been infected by the disease, with a rapid spreading of it imminent. Keep Reading ...


1987: President Reagan finally (and too late, to be honest) acknowledged the AIDS epidemic in public. Randy Shilts' book, And The Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic is published. In it he investigates the early days of the virus, from 1980-1985, as well as calling Reagan’s actions regarding the AIDS crisis "ritualistic silence."

1988: C. Everett Koop finished his research on AIDS. The eight-page document, "Understanding AIDS," was mailed to every household in the U.S. December 1st of that year becomes the first Worlds AIDS Day.

1990: Shortly after his death, the Ryan White Care Act is enacted as a means to provide "for those who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources for coping with HIV disease." In 2009, President Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act.

1992: Drug therapy combos known as "cocktails," are introduced to help in slowing down the impending AIDS-resistant to drugs.


1996: Biomedical researcher Robert Gallo discovered that chemokine natural compounds can not only block HIV, but also stop the progression of AIDS.

1999: With support from the CDC, President Bill Clinton established the LIFE Initiative to help combat the spread of AIDS in Africa.

2000: Thanks to the U.S. Congress, the Global AIDS and Tuberculosis Relief Act is enacted and authorized $600 million to be spent on U.S. global efforts to get a handle on the disease.

2007: Timothy Ray Brown of San Francisco became the first person to be cured of HIV through a bone marrow transplant.

2010: On March 23, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act which includes "access to free HIV screening for many people. For those living with HIV/AIDS, the healthcare law will help to ensure they get the care and treatment they need." This is a major step as private insurance companies, historically, are less than agreeable when it come to HIV/AIDS patients.


2011: President Obama declared putting an end to AIDS a major goal during his presidency, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, addressed "Creating an AIDS-free Generation."

2013: "Functionally" cured of HIV becomes a reality thanks to antiretroviral therapy, but it's still not 100% guaranteed for all HIV-infected patients.

While we've come an extremely long way, both in scientific research and society's perception of HIV and AIDS, we still have a ways to go. Hillary Clinton's dream of creating an AIDS-free generation is lovely, and hopefully something will see in our lifetime, but it's going to take effort from everyone.

Science can only get us so far, and honestly, "functionally" cured just isn't good enough. We owe it to ourselves and those we love to not only always use a condom when we have sex, but get tested regularly for HIV. If you've yet to be tested and you're sexually active, today is your day to get on down to your closest HIV testing center, and make sure you have a clean bill of health.


Your body will thank you if it means keeping it in business.