Every May 18, the nation recognizes National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. Today, we celebrate the progress made in the prevention, research, and treatment of HIV, but also remember the progress yet to be made. In 2016, HIV is still a global pandemic, and it must remain an international concern if it is to be stopped. According to the National Institutes of Health, that will require the development of a preventative vaccine that's "safe, effective, and affordable," because there is no absolute cure.
To commemorate the day, the NIH announced that it will carry out a new clinical trial for a vaccine in South Africa. So far, one vaccine, which was tested in Thailand in 2009, prevented a third of recipients from contracting the disease. In the next few decades, scientists hope to develop a vaccine that will prove effective for a majority of the population.
But the largest obstacle is not necessarily rooted in medical science. Instead, it has to do with the lack of healthcare infrastructure and access to treatment, as well as education. Though researchers have developed treatments that allow HIV-positive individuals to live healthily for a number of years, the number of cases continues to grow by about two million each year. Here is how HIV has evolved over the years, and why we as a planet cannot afford to neglect it.
1) The Origin
HIV was originally transmitted to humans by chimpanzees in Africa. The first man could have been infected as early as the 1940s or 1950s, after presumably consuming the meat of an infected chimp.
2) The Community Response
Before scientists connected HIV with AIDS, the latter was found to disproportionately affect gay men. The Gay Men's Health Crisis was the first community-based AIDS service, founded in the United States in 1982.
3) HIV: The Virus That Causes AIDS
Scientists identified AIDS before they discovered the virus that actually causes it in 1983. It was present in cities like New York and Los Angeles during the 1970s, and was named the human immunodeficiency virus by the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses in 1986.
4) The First AIDS Discrimination Lawsuit
The lawsuit was filed by a doctor whose landlord threatened to evict him after finding out he had treated AIDS patients in 1983. Congress has since passed federal laws that prohibit such discrimination.
5) The Social Stigma Persists
Even today, HIV- and AIDS-positive individuals risk being shunned by society. Many people falsely believe that they can contract the virus through touch.
5) The First Commercial HIV Test Is Released
The Food and Drug Administration licensed the first HIV blood test in 1985, which prevented people from acquiring the virus through blood transfusions.
6) The Number Of People With AIDS/HIV Continued To Rise
By 1996, over 23 million people worldwide had AIDS/HIV. By the end of 2014, that number had risen by about 13 million. The World Health Organization estimated that 2.6 million of them are children under the age of 15.
7) Treatment Becomes More Accessible
It wasn't until 2000 that antiretroviral drugs became more accessible to a larger population in developing countries. UNAIDS convinced five pharmaceutical companies to drop their prices. This happened one year after WHO announced that HIV/AIDS was the fourth-largest cause of death worldwide, and the largest cause in Africa.
8) The Number of AIDS/HIV-Related Deaths Decreases
According to UNAIDS, the number of death caused by AIDS/HIV had declined by 30 percent since 2005. Still, tens of millions of people live with the virus.
9) Still, Many Are Unaware Of Their Infection
AIDS.gov reported that of the 1.2 million people in the U.S. living with HIV, one in eight are unaware that they have been infected.
10) Youth Are Still Affected
Over the past several years, there have been somewhere around 50,000 new cases of HIV per year in the U.S. Of those new cases, 25 percent are young people between the ages of 13 and 24.