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A brief history of HIV

In June 1981, scientists in the United States reported the first clinical evidence of a disease that would become known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Twenty-seven years later, the AIDS epidemic has spread to every corner of the world. Over 22 million people have lost their lives to the disease and over 39 million people are today living with HIV. 




  • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and kaposis sarcoma is identified in gay men in Los Angeles and New York.

  • Later in the year, PCP is also identified in injecting drug users.




  • The collection of symptoms or syndrome is named Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) by scientists. It becomes apparent that GRID is caused by an infectious agent, possibly a virus passed through blood.

  • Haitian refugees and haemophiliacs are identified with the virus.

  • The syndrome is re-named Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) as it is clear that it does not just affect gay men. Three modes of transmission are identified: blood transfusion, mother-to-child and sexual intercourse.



  • Doctors at the Institute Pasteur in France believe they have isolated the virus which causes AIDS. The virus is named lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV).

  • In Europe there appears to be two streams of epidemic, one linked to Africa and the other to gay men who have visited the USA.

  • The first Australian death from AIDS is recorded in Melbourne.

  • A report incorrectly, suggests the possibility of casual household transmission. This promotes fear, hostility and discrimination in many countries.

  • The Victorian AIDS Action Committee, which later becomes the Victorian AIDS Council, is formed by the Melbourne gay community.

  • AIDS has been reported in 33 countries. In Africa, a heterosexual AIDS epidemic is establishing itself.

  • 1,283 Americans are reported to have died of AIDS.



  • Dr. Robert Gallo, National Cancer Institute in America, announces that he has isolated the retrovirus which causes AIDS and that it has been named HTLV-III. Blood testing is introduced to detect antibodies to the virus.

  • Sydney man Bobby Goldsmith dies of AIDS. His friends form the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation to address the needs, and promote the independence and participation of people living with HIV/AIDS in NSW.

  • French-Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas dies of AIDS. Dugas was dubbed ‘patient zero' by the US Centres for Disease Control after the American Journal of Medicine linked all of New York City's early HIV infections to him.

  • In Queensland, it is announced that four babies have died as a result of contracting HIV through infected blood transfusions.

  • Some experts predict a vaccine and cure for AIDS will be available before the end of the decade.

  • 7,000 Americans have died of AIDS.



  • AIDS has been reported in 51 countries.

  • The AIDS Council of New South Wales and AIDS Action Council of the ACT are formed.

  • Film star Rock Hudson dies of AIDS.

  • The first international conference on AIDS is held in Atlanta, USA.

  • Australia becomes one of the first countries in the world to screen all blood donors by questionnaire and antibody testing.

  • A meeting of Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) results in the establishment of the Western Australian AIDS Council.



  • It is confirmed that French LAV and American HTLV-III are the same virus. LAV and HTLV-III are re-named Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

  • At the second International AIDS Conference in Paris there is preliminary reports on the use of the drug Azidothymidine (AZT) for the treatment of AIDS.

  • The World Health Organisation launches its global AIDS strategy, recommending that sterile injecting equipment be made available to drug users as a means of trying to prevent the spread of AIDS.

  • The Western Australian AIDS Council receives its first government funding.

  • The first Australian needle and syringe program begins in Sydney as a trial project. The following year needle and syringe programs become NSW Government policy. Other States and Territories follow soon after.



  • Princess Diana opens the first specialist AIDS hospital ward in the UK. Media reports that she does not wear gloves when shaking hands with people with AIDS prompts a change in attitudes to people living with HIV/AIDS.

  • President Kaunda of Zambia announces that his son has died of AIDS.

  • In San Francisco, Cleve Jones makes the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in memory of his friend Marvin Feldman.

  • 62,000 cases of AIDS are officially reported by the World Health Organisation.

  • The AIDS Trust of Australia is launched.



  • A world summit of Health Ministers is held in London with representatives from 148 countries. The ensuing London Declaration emphasises education, free exchange of information and the need to protect human rights and dignity. World AIDS Day - 1 December - is initiated.

  • Condoman makes his first appearance.

  • The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt is founded and displayed on World AIDS Day.



  • A new antiretroviral drug, dideoxyinosine (ddI) is introduced in America.

  • Homosexuality is decriminalised in WA, the age of consent being 21. People Living with HIV/AIDS (Western Australia) opens the first drop-in-centre in Australia.



  • The sixth International Conference on AIDS is held in San Francisco.

  • The media reports that Romanian children are being infected through multiple blood transfusions.

  • In Australia, the National People Living with AIDS Coalition is formed. The Coalition later becomes the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, with member organisations in each state.

  • The National Centre in HIV Social Research is established in Australia.

  • 307,000 AIDS cases are officially reported to the World Health Organisation. However, true figures are estimated to be one million people living with AIDS, and a further 9 million living with HIV.



  • Basketball star ‘Magic' Johnson announces that he is HIV positive. Freddy Mercury, lead singer of Queen dies from AIDS.

  • The red ribbon is launched as the international symbol of AIDS awareness, and is seen on television at the Tony Awards in New York.

  • The Western Australian AIDS Council is awarded ‘Best Community Health Organisation' by the Public Health Association.



  • Tennis player Arthur Ashe, the first African-American man to win the US Open and Wimbledon, announces that he is HIV positive.

  • Combination therapy is introduced, using two 2 drugs, AZT and ddC.

  • The ACT legislates to make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of HIV infection.

  • The first National Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Conference is held in the Northern Territory.



  • Dancer Rudolph Nureyev and Arthur Ashe die of AIDS.

  • A European trial finds that AZT is not a useful therapy for HIV positive people who have not yet developed symptoms.

  • The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act makes discrimination on the grounds of HIV/AIDS illegal in Australia.

  • 691 Australians die of AIDS.



  • Filmmaker Derek Jarman dies of AIDS. Actor Tom Hanks wins an Oscar for portraying a gay man with HIV in the movie Philadelphia.

  • A study shows that AZT reduces the risk of transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their babies.

  • AIDS becomes the leading cause of death amongst Americans aged 24 - 44. Approximately 400,000 Americans have developed AIDS and over 250,000 have died.



  • Several newly manufactured drugs start to be used in combination therapy.

  • The World Health Organisation Global Programmme on AIDS is closed after criticism that it has done little at grass roots level and concentrated on medical and vaccine issues.

  • An HIV outbreak in Eastern Europe is detected among injecting drug users.



  • The World Health Organisation Global Programme on AIDS is replaced by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), a combination of the World Health Organisation, the UNICEF Children's Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank.

  • Viral load testing is introduced.

  • The International AIDS Conference in Vancouver reports on the success of triple combination therapy. Highly active antiretroviral therapy is presented for the first time.

  • A slowing of the infection rate is reported in some countries due to safe sex and safe injecting practices. Worldwide infection rates continue to grow rapidly.



  • Side effects to the new drug regimes become apparent and drug resistance is an increasing concern.

  • UNAIDS reports that globally, 30 million people may be living with the HIV and that 16,000 new infections are occurring every day.

  • Brazil becomes the first developing country to provide antiretroviral therapy through its public health system.



  • Jonathon Mann, the first Director of UNAIDS and his wife, an AIDS researcher, die in a plane crash.

  • Several developed countries report closing AIDS units and wards owing to the falling death rate.

  • The first human trials of an AIDS vaccine start with 5,000 volunteers across America.

  • The first short-course regimen to prevent mother-to-child transmission is announced.



  • Researchers at the University of Alabama report that they have traced the virus to a group of chimpanzees once common in West Central Africa. The World Health Annual Report states that AIDS has become the world's fourth leading cause of death.

  • The Russian AIDS prevention service reports a twelve fold increase in new cases of HIV in Moscow.

  • The first efficacy trial of a potential HIV vaccine in a developing country starts in Thailand.



  • The United Nations Security Council discusses HIV/AIDS for the first time.

  • China opens its first telephone ‘hotline' for sexual health issues.

  • 36 million people are reported to be living with HIV/AIDS. Eastern Europe shows a massive increase in infection rates.

  • A consortium of Australian researchers are awarded a $27 million contract to develop an HIV vaccine.



  • United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan launches the creation of a global fund on AIDS and other infectious diseases. This fund later becomes known as the ‘Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria'.

  • Two important documents on the global response to HIV/AIDS are published:

    • the ‘Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS', resulting from the United Nations General Assembly Special Session; and the

    • the ‘International Labour Organisation Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS in the Workplace'.

  • By December 2001 more than 60 million people have been infected with the virus. AIDS is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.



  • 11.8 million children and young people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS.

  • Participants at the International AIDS Conference, Spain, identify enabling protection against HIV and providing adequate and affordable treatment as the most significant challenges facing the global response.



  • UNAIDS forms important alliances with the International Cricket Council, to help fight HIV/AIDS in cricket playing countries; and another with the World Trade Organisation, to provide developing countries with cheaper HIV-related drugs.

  • Globally, a young person is now infected with HIV every 14 seconds.



  • The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria holds its first ‘Partnership Forum' in Thailand.

  • Global funding has increased from roughly US$2.1 billion to an estimated US$6.1 billion, and access to prevention and care services has improved. UNAIDS launches ‘The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS' to raise the visibility of the epidemic's impact on women and girls.



  • The United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS is held to review progress on targets set at the 2001 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

  • The World Health Organisation, US Government and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announce results of joint efforts to increase the availability of antiretroviral drugs in developing countries. At the end of 2004, an estimated 700,000 people have been reached.

  • On 13 March, China announces that it has begun human trials of an HIV vaccine.



  • The International AIDS Society conference is held in Toronto. The theme is ‘Time to Deliver'.

  • A US based AIDS Museum is established. The mission statement of the Museum is that it ‘will be America's national institution for the documentation, study and interpretation of the AIDS pandemic. The mission of the Museum will be to advance and disseminate knowledge about AIDS, to preserve the memory of those who have died and continue to suffer, and to encourage visitors to reflect upon the medical, political, and humanitarian questions raised by the AIDS pandemic'.

  • UNAIDS estimates that at the end of 2005, 39 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, 4.1 million became newly infected and 2.8 million died.

  • Australia's nearest neighbours, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are facing growing HIV epidemics. The Australian Government signs a memorandum of understanding with the Clinton Foundation, donating $25 million over four years to increase the availability of antiretroviral drugs, improve laboratory and testing infrastructure and strengthen monitoring and evaluation systems in the Asia-Pacific region.