40 years ago, the world learned about AIDS

Back to the main stages of the AIDS epidemic, from its emergence 40 years ago, to the current hope of eradication.

The red ribbon is the universal symbol of the fight against AIDS and of solidarity with those affected by it. (photo illustration).


1981: first alert

On June 5, 1981, the US public health organization CDC reported a rare form of pneumonia in young Californian homosexuals. This is the first alert on AIDS.

We do not know anything about this disease which does not yet have a name. The health authorities report these same “opportunistic infections” among injecting drug users (late 1981), hemophiliacs having recourse to blood transfusions (mid-1982) and Haitians residing in the United States (mid-1982). We then speak of “4H” disease (homosexuals, heroin addicts, hemophiliacs and Haitians).

The English term “aids” (“acquired immune deficiency syndrome”) appeared in 1982. In French: “SIDA”, for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

1983: discovery of the virus

In January 1983, at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, researchers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Jean-Claude Chermann, under the direction of Luc Montagnier, isolated a new virus which they called LAV and which “could be involved” in AIDS. .

On April 23, 1984, the United States announced that the American specialist in retroviruses Robert Gallo had found the “probable” cause of AIDS, a retrovirus called HTLV-III.

LAV and HTLV-III turn out to be the same virus, known in 1986 as the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

1987: first treatment

On March 20, 1987, the first AZT antiretroviral treatment was authorized in the United States. It is expensive and has significant side effects.

On March 31, an agreement was signed between France and the United States to put an end to the litigation on the paternity of the discovery of HIV. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier will receive, in 2008, the Nobel Prize in medicine for this discovery.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (here in photo) and Luc Montagnier will receive, in 2008, the Nobel Prize in medicine for this discovery.


Beginning of 90: stars are falling

The American actor Rock Hudson was the first famous AIDS victim in October 1985. In the early 1990s, several stars fell: Freddie Mercury in November 1991, Rudolf Nureyev in January 1993.

In 1994, AIDS became the leading cause of death among Americans aged 25 to 44.

1995-96: start of triple therapy

In 1995-96, the arrival of two new classes of drugs marked a turning point: protease inhibitors and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors.

This is the beginning of combinations of different antiretrovirals: triple therapies, which are very effective against the virus. In 1996 in the United States, for the first time, the number of victims declined.

1999: 50 millions

A report by WHO and UNAIDS (UN AIDS branch) in November 1999 estimated that 50 million people had been infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic, 16 million of whom had died. Africa is the first affected continent with 12.2 million people living with HIV.

2001: generic drugs

After an agreement signed in 2000 by Onusida and five large laboratories to distribute affordable treatments in poor countries, a compromise was signed on November 13, 2001 at the WTO to allow developing countries to manufacture generic drugs.

2012: first preventive treatment

On July 16, 2012, a first preventive treatment called PrEP (“pre-exposure prophylaxis”), the antiretroviral cocktail Truvada, was authorized in the United States. Since then, this type of treatment has proven its effectiveness and allowed people at risk to protect themselves by taking a tablet as a preventive measure.

2017: 50% of patients treated

In 2017, for the first time, more than half of HIV carriers worldwide are on antiretroviral therapy. Today, this proportion is around three-quarters: 27.5 million people treated out of 37.7 million infected (UNAIDS figures).

2020/21: the impact of the Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic is jeopardizing the objective of Onusida: “to end AIDS as a threat to public health by 2030”.

The new disease is severely disrupting access to health systems, testing and treatment, slowing progress against AIDS, which in 40 years has killed 36.3 million people.



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