By Karen Roush, MS, RN, FNP-C, AJN clinical managing editor

“In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died. All 5 patients had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candidal mucosal infection. Case reports of these patients follow.”

So began the MMWR of June 5, 1981—the first herald of what became known as AIDS. Reading that report now, knowing the devastation that would follow, is chilling.

Today is World AIDS Day. It has been 30 years.

In some ways, we need this day more than ever, to remind us of the devastating potential of this condition—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only 28% of people in the U.S. infected with HIV get the treatment they need to suppress the virus. We need it to remind us of the millions who continue to suffer and die from it, mostly in Africa where two thirds of the AIDS cases occur.

We should also take time today to celebrate the victories. We’ve come far in the last 30 years. Effective treatments have been developed. Civil rights protections have been put in place. People with HIV can now live long, joyful, productive lives. Thirty years ago it was a death sentence, one that devastated those it affected—physically, socially, economically. Now it is a manageable illness that appears close to being controlled.

But we must continue to pay attention. We must continue to fight with the same energy and resources. We still have far to go—to a cure, a vaccine, a life with HIV free of stigma. To access to effective treatment, no matter where you live in the world. What will you do to mark World AIDS Day 2011?

Editor’s note: for more context, see these recent AJN articles about HIV-related issues relevant to today’s nurses:

“No Time for Complacency”
“Every Nurse Is an HIV Nurse”
“Aging with HIV: Clinical Considerations for an Emerging Population” (CE)

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