Fear, stigma and ignorance. That's what defined the global HIV epidemic in the 1980s, killing thousands of people who may have had only a few weeks or months between diagnosis and death – they had even managed to do it before their death.
"In the absence of effective treatment in the 1980s, there was little hope for those diagnosed with HIV, facing debilitating disease and some deaths within a few years," says Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, director from the HIV Department of WHO.
December 1, 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day – a day created to raise public awareness about HIV and the resulting AIDS epidemics. Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have contracted the infection and about 35 million people have died. Today, about 37 million people in the world are living with HIV, including 22 million in treatment.
When World AIDS Day was created in 1988, the world was very different from what it is today. We now have tests, treatments, a range of easily accessible prevention measures, including pre-exposure prophylaxis for PrEP, and services that can reach vulnerable communities.
By the end of the 1980s, however, "the prospects for people living with HIV were rather bleak," says Dr. Rachel Baggaley, HIV testing and prevention coordinator at WHO. "As antiretrovirals are not yet available, we have been able to offer treatment for opportunistic infections, but no treatment for their HIV. It was a very sad and difficult time. "