This month marks 40 years since the first documented cases of HIV/AIDS. On June 5, 1981, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) in the US published a report about five gay men who had contracted a mysterious illness. Health experts did not see that contracting the disease had nothing to do with sexuality and, before anyone took significant action, the visus killed men, women and children.
It would take 15 years of constant activism, mostly led by the gay community who saw homophobia slowing the response, before an effective antiviral treatment was found. In that time, many more people lost their lives as the virus swept across every inhabited continent. Since the epidemic began, more than 34 million people have died and more than 37 million people are living with HIV today.
Although there has been huge progress in both treatment and prevention across the world, infection rates continue to rise in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, according to UN Aids.
The outlook is particularly bleak for women and girls in those regions. About 6,000 women between 15 and 24 are infected with HIV and AIDS every week, a UN report found last year, and it is the leading cause of death worldwide for women aged 15-49.
Forty years on, no cure and the virus is still claiming lives.
In this episode of The Stream we sit down with activists to reflect on four decades of HIV/AIDS, to discuss living with it and to consider the work that still lies ahead.
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