From the start of the epidemic in 1981 to the latest development in research.

  21 July 2017 10:53

From the start of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, here are 10 dates in the history of the disease.


1981: First alert

On June 5, 1981, US epidemiologists report the first deaths among young homosexuals from a mysterious immune-wrecking disease later named acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).  

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) later identifies the same infections among injected drug-users (late 1981), haemophiliacs (mid 1982) and Haitian residents in the US (mid 1982).

The term AIDS appears in 1982.

1983: Identifying HIV

In January 1983, researchers in France, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Jean-Claude Chermann under the direction of Luc Montagnier, identify the virus that "might be" responsible for AIDS. It is dubbed LAV.

The next year, US specialist Robert Gallo is said to have found the "probable" cause of AIDS, a retrovirus dubbed HTLV-III.

The two viruses turn out to be one and the same, and in May 1986 it becomes officially known as the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. 

1987: AZT

On March 20, 1987, the first anti-retroviral treatment known as AZT is authorized in the US. It is expensive and has many side effects however.

1988: First AIDS day

December 1, 1988 is established by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first World AIDS Day.

In June 1989 the number of AIDS cases worldwide is estimated at more than 150,000. 

Early 90s: Falling stars

US actor Rock Hudson is the first high-profile AIDS victim in October 1985. In the early 1990s other stars succumb to the disease, notably British singer Freddie Mercury in November 1991 and Russian dancer-choreographer Rudolf Nureyev in January 1993.

The next year, AIDS becomes the leading cause of death among US citizens aged 24-44.

1995/96: New approach

In 1995/96, a new approach begins with the advent of new anti-retroviral therapies, and drug combinations that provide the first effective treatment for HIV although they are not a cure.

In the US, 1996 is the first year during which the number of AIDS deaths declines.

1999: 50 million

A report released by WHO and the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) in November 1999 estimates the number of people infected with HIV since it first appeared at 50 million, of whom 16 million died. 

Africa is the hardest-hit continent, with 12.2 million cases.

2001: Generic treatments

Following an accord signed in 2000 by UNAIDS and major pharmaceutical firms to make treatment affordable in poor countries, the World Trade Organisation hosts the signing of a compromise on November 13, 2001 that allows developing countries to produce generic treatments.

2008: Nobel Prize

On October 6, 2008, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier "for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus".

2012: Preventive treatment

On July 16, 2012, the anti-retroviral treatment Truvada is approved for use in the US as a preventive tool to help ward off HIV.


Agence France-Press


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