[Originally published on BioGPS's Gene-of-the-Week Series on June 16, 2014.]
1981 was an eventful year. The Iran Hostage Crisis had finally ended. Ronald Reagan became the 40th President of the United States, and shortly thereafter, survived an assassination attempt. In the soap opera General Hospital, the marriage of two beloved characters became (and remains today) the highest-rated episode in daytime television history. And on June 5th, the CDC reported 5 cases of a rare lung infection in young, previously healthy, gay men—all with apparent immune system deficiencies. This marked the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.
Thirty-three years later, HIV has infected at least 60 million people and caused over 25 million deaths. The latest estimate for number of people living with HIV is 35.3 million—that’s more than the total population of Canada. This number is rising, but that’s a good sign because people with HIV are living longer. Global incidence (which reflects new cases of HIV infection) is decreasing—except in Europe and the Americas where the availability of anti-retroviral drugs has resulted in so-called “therapeutic optimism,” and thus a return to risky sexual behavior. In the last few decades, there’s been a very vocal, effective public campaign against HIV/AIDS. However, the history of war against HIV extends much further…