June 06, 2006

25 years of AIDS

Micheal Gottlieb, a doctor at UCLA's AIDS institute and a member of the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance shares his story about discovering AIDS in today's LA Times. He published the first case of AIDS in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on June 5th, 1981.

Michael and my other early patients died within that first year. Within days of the June 5 report, doctors began telephoning from all over the nation to tell me about their own patients with pneumocystis. Over time, intensive care units at UCLA and across the country began to fill with young gay men requiring ventilators, their lungs choked with the same strange organism. The AIDS epidemic was underway.

It is still astonishing to me that a disease that spread from chimpanzees to humans in Central Africa probably as early as the 1930s was first detected in West Los Angeles in 1981. In retrospect, we know that HIV had traveled to U.S. shores as early as 1977. And the earliest known positive HIV blood sample is from 1959, obtained from an unknown man in Kinshasa, Congo, and frozen.
Twenty-five years later, a disease that used to be deadly and widely feared has been reined in by the development of drugs, a global effort to educate and a greater effort to use condoms for the prevention of STDs. Our progress is amazing and frustrating at the same time. It is easy to point fingers at many people who stymie the efforts of AIDS organizations... but it is amazing to see how far we've come in just 25 years.

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