World AIDS Day, 30 Years On from That Fateful MMWR

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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2016-11-21T13:11:16+00:00 December 1st, 2011|nursing perspective|15 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Melissa Daley August 2, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    HIV/AIDS has affected so many people, both directly and indirectly, since the disease was discovered more than thirty years ago. It is a scary thought that only a small percentage of those infected receive the necessary treatment “The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that only 28% of people in the U.S. infected with HIV get the treatment they need in order to supress the virus.” World AIDS day is a day to educate and inform the public about the advances in finding a cure for this disease, which has affected so many people in such a short period of time. Worldwide we must not give up and continue to fight with the same amount of energy and resources. There is still a long way to go to find a cure for this disease, and we must continue this fight.

  2. Anna Rafael April 15, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Every year we recognize December 1st as World AIDS Day; a reminder to go and get tested, to wear protection and to remember that those infected are just as normal as any human being. Till this day AIDS is still seen as a “taboo,” something that many do not talk about. However, this is a subject that should be brought up more often, in order to teach those not to be so ignorant to the fact that there are specific ways of catching the disease and that just a simple hand shake won’t do the trick. It is shocking to learn that only 28% of those infected are seeking treatment and curious to know why the rest aren’t. Could it be that medications are too expensive for certain population or that some just refuse to get treatment? In a day like World AIDS Day, some take the time to view the accomplishments and advancements that have been made; while others remember those loved ones who are fighting to survive and/or those that have lost the battle. It should not take one day of the year to speak about AIDS; this should be a constant topic to remind people to take care of their bodies as much possible and to be considerate of others.

  3. Graziela Calipso April 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    HIV/AIDS still today is thought to be one of the scariest diseases to have. It is good to know that we have come this far in treating this disease and its symptoms that comes along with this disease. Long time ago a lot people died from mismanagement and from not having enough resources to treat HIV/AIDS. Now, available in the US are community groups where people with this disease can come together and discuss their daily struggles. Medicines are more accessible as well. However, although we have made some advancement in treating this disease, I do not think that we have come far enough. There is a long road ahead of us. Now that there is treatment, we need prevention and a cure. Although, there are many advertisements on stopping the stigma, it’s still not enough. People are not practicing safe sex, people are still sharing drug needles, and etc.

  4. Melissa Fonte April 15, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    AIDS has affected so many people, both directly and indirectly, since its discovery more than 30 years ago. Only a small percentage of those affected with HIV receive the necessary treatment. World AIDS Day is a day set aside to educate the world about the terrible disease which has affected so many people in such a short amount of time. However, this day is also about celebrating the great strides we have made. Many effective developments have come to be in the last 30 years. But I agree that we still have to fight, research, and continue to educate with the same energy that we have been.

  5. Lorelein Valladares April 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Of all the diseases in the world, I feel the one that carries the heaviest stigma is acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). We have made advancements in terms of treatment but I do not agree that it is manageable or even close to being controlled. It is true, effective treatments have been developed but at what cost? As mentioned in your post, there are “reports that only 28% of people in the U.S. infected with HIV get the treatment they need to suppress the virus.” The treatments that are available are too pricey for the majority of the population to afford, so how truly effective are they? I believe that in order to better control the spread of this illness, the treatment needs to be widely attainable. If people cannot afford treatment, the spread of the disease continues. It is also important to educate people how to avoid contracting HIV. It seems incredible that 32 years have already passed since the tragic discovery, but I am also pleased to see a day of tribute. December 1 is a day to honor those that have died and those that are fighting to survive.

  6. Ingrid Encinas November 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    I agree that education is one the most vital ways to prevent the spread of AIDS and believe that it can be done! For example, in Africa, where two thirds of all the AIDS cases happen, education can be taken there in many forms. Nursing or medical students can travel to African villages as part of their community nursing clinicals and spread basic knowledge to people that probably do not even know what HIV or AIDS even is. I too find it shocking that only 28 percent of the US population, the richest country in the world, is being treated for AIDS properly . But then again so many things about this country fill me with deception, for example, our health care system. AIDS day on December 1st, is a great way to celebrate the fight against this terrible virus. I believe that it’s important to mark a day out of the year as recognition to such a monumental struggle.

  7. Jacqueline Dalla Rosa November 25, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Having been a prison and rehabilitation nurse, I have learned that it is not an easy task to deal with AIDS from the pharmacological standpoint. I believe that only 28 percent of the United States population uses the treatment to suppress the virus, because only 28 percent of the population can. What I mean by this is that sadly, HIV/AIDS medications are excessively expensive. As an example, Kaletra or Truvada, can cost anywhere from $750 to $1000. In my experience, the prisoners I gave their medications to were required to take their medications, in some form or another, or they had to go through educational sessions on the dangers of withholding their medications. On the other hand, in the real world, I was also a rehabilitation nurse that dealt with patients with many infectious diseases and alcoholism and drug problems. The compliance that these patients had with their medications was very low to non-existent. It was saddening to see how quickly these people would deteriorate in their health because they were non-compliant. If you generalize, the reality is, not only are these medications very pricey, but to add to the burden of the financial responsibility, there is also the factor that these patients insurances are not willing to cover these medications because they are considered pre-existing conditions. The rate of this disease will only continue to increase. Not only will it increase, but only the people that have very good insurances will be able to get these medications. It is no wonder why there isn’t a higher amount of people who are not currently taking their medications. If pharmaceutical companies cared even in the slightest, the number of patients taking their medications would increase because there would be more people able to afford their medications. Until that happens (which I imagine it never will—they only care about their incoming profit), there will only be a continuous decline of people willing to take their medications as directed. That is the sad truth. Scarier even, I heard from an infectious disease nurse just recently that there are people who are purposely getting themselves infected with AIDS so that they can sell the medications in the black market. The profit they make is substantial. As I stated earlier, this will only continue until someone does something about the pharmaceutical companies and their reign on the costs of medications.

  8. Alexandria Aguayo November 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    World AIDS Day is less than a month away. After searching several websites and reading blogs, I kept being reminded how HIV and AIDS are a major global health issues. It is sad to know that so many people have lost their lives because of this disease, especially in Africa. I find it shocking that only twenty-eight percent of Americans that are infected HIV are receiving treatment. America is one of the most advanced countries and the majority of HIV patients are not being medicated to suppress the virus. Therefore, here and around the world this disease will continue to be an issue. However, there have been much advancements in the last 30 years to allow people to live longer lives with the virus. We have come far on the issue and that is a reason to celebrate. It is inspiring and important to continue improving by keeping the population educated on prevention and treatment around the world.

  9. William Padron August 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Even though we have come a long way in terms of information sharing, AIDS is still for many people a taboo word. As long as this happens, the fight against AIDS cannot be a successful one. To fight AIDS the first thing that must be done is to talk about it openly. To fight AIDS successfully we need more emphasis in education and prevention, while increasing the current levels of research and treatment efforts. To fight AIDS we need to understand that borders are futile and containment walks hand in hand with knowledge and realistic initiatives. To fight AIDS for our present and future we must look at the past, so that we can learn from mistakes and imitate successful strategies. To fight AIDS realistically we cannot let our guard down in view of recent advancements that have denied the disease its share of death sentences, suffering, and hopelessness. To fight AIDS with hope, we must remain united, while understanding that no one country is responsible alone for the fight. It is a global problem with globally shared responsibility.

  10. Yamilet Sotolongo July 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    30 years has gone by quick. It has been a bumpy road, nevertheless progressive. From the first few cases of AIDS to today, we have come a long way and have increased AIDS awareness globally. It is important to continue striving towards AIDS awareness, treatment and cure. Hopefully one day (soon), a cure to AIDS will be found. To mark AIDS day, I will suggest my employer to include a section in our member newsletter that is mailed to members of the health plan I work for. By providing a summary of World AIDS day and getting world out there will hopefully help prevent some people form contracting the disease by making them aware of how to prevent AIDS transmission.

  11. Carlos M. Rodriguez April 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    It is incredible! The 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS! Thanks God today is not like 30 years ago, when people died almost immediately after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Also, the way society judges HIV-infected people has changed. Today, most people with HIV are supported by those close to them, and there is legal protection from discrimination in areas like health care and employment. However, one of the things people find most difficult about living with HIV is the stigma attached to it and, sadly, people with HIV do still come across prejudice and discrimination. Knowing your rights is also important when thinking about how you would respond to prejudice or discrimination. While we have made significant advances against the disease, such as new medications and expanding access to treatment, HIV/AIDS is still a killer. Contracting HIV is not the immediate death sentence it was in the 80’s and 90’s. It is however, still a death sentence. Just because the medications prolong life and help from getting sick longer, doesn’t mean that the complications from the illness will not eventually claim life. Every 12 minutes someone in the world dies from AIDS related complications. AIDS is alive and well. After 30 years there is still no cure, no vaccine, and no end in sight.

  12. Andrea Linton-Davis April 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Commenting on the article Worlds AIDS Day found on the American Journal of Nursing website posted December 1, 2011.
    Having a World Day in recognition of AIDS heightens global awareness to the impact of the disease on the victims as well as the economy, provides insights to the progress made in treating the disease and gives hope to those who are currently affected. The milestones achieved over the last 30 years in treating this disease have been great however getting 100% compliance has been challenging and for various reasons. It is surprising to know that only 28% of the people infected by HIV in the USA have received effective treatment. It is hoped that a better system will be developed to enforce compliance with treatment and to increase accessibility in the USA. While the World Day effects the reaction of survivals and supporters of individuals affected by AIDS, the USA needs to further increase the level of attentiveness to current victims by developing a system that monitors the compliance of treatment, such as the taking of medication in order for the victims to obtain the maximum effectiveness of the treatment plan, ultimately living a longer and better quality of life.

  13. Jennifer J April 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    It is overwhelming and devastating to know that AIDS and HIV are still “hush-hush topics.” After more than 30 years thousands die every year of this devastating disease which affects every nationality. It does not absolve age, gender, religion. It destroys families, loved ones. It takes precious members away, the departed and the lingering. Yet, today we do not talk enough about this at schools, universities. We minimize the subject to “only affecting ‘gays, lesbians, and prostitutes’. Meanwhile, the disease attacks our neighbor, the eight year old child at the hospital, the man photographed shaking the hand of an important personality or a close relative. AIDS is here and not only in a remote country, thousand miles away

  14. Lisbeth Bascoy March 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I read the World AIDS Day article found in the American Journal of Nursing website. I feel this is a very important article since AIDS is a Global issue currently being faced. December 1st is known as World AIDS Day. This is an important day as the author mentions. On such day everyone has an opportunity to fight for ways on improving the development of AIDS. Many people die yearly because of not receiving proper treatment for AIDS and that is sad to say in a country with such developments. The cure for AIDS has come a long way making it a slower progressing disease and being able to lead a more manageable life. However, the results are so devastating I believe more can be done to stop AIDS. Simple ways to prevent AIDS from taking lives are education, prevention, and even more complex ways such as medicine to suppress the virus. I agree with the author that on December 1st World AIDS Day people should celebrate the victories and fight to find a cure for AIDS.

  15. Michael Bleich December 2, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Thank you for the stunning reminder of the journey that this devasting disease has caused – and for the challenges of treatment with hope for the future – but also, for what HIV/AIDs has done to, hopefully, strengthen our humanity and sensitivity to all who suffer, regardless of the disease.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

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