The History of AIDS: A Timeline

Compiled by Alex Goddard


This timeline focuses on the most important events of the AIDS epidemic. Whether it is a disaster, cultural/political shift, or medical advance, this timeline attempts to cover as many important events as possible. Included are links to more information or primary sources for many of the events.
Unless otherwise noted,
**Bigger, more important events are highlighted in green. **


June 5, 1981: The Morbid and Mortality Weekly Report reports five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in previously healthy homosexual men, and connects the five cases to a “common exposure,” saying it was a “disease acquired through sexual contact.” This report triggers similar reports from New York and San Francisco, along with a number of other cities, and was the first identification of a common cause for certain diseases that are normally suppressed by a healthy immune system.
July 1981: The first autopsy of a person known to have what would come to be known as AIDS is performed at Lennox Hill Hospital, providing tremendous insight into the disease’s mechanisms and relationship to other autoimmune disorders.
July 3, 1981: The New York Times reports on 41 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma infecting gay men in New York and California.
1981: The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), one of the first major AIDS activist groups, starts meeting informally in writer Larry Kramer’s living room.


1982: The Gay Men’s Health Crisis is recognized as a nonprofit charity nationwide.
September 24, 1982: Conditions common to many people suffering from opportunistic diseases, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, are finally defined under one name, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). This follows an intense period of debate on a name, with many different names stemming from various sources, such as GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) or lymphadenopathy and KSOI for “Kaposi’s sarcoma and opportunistic infections” (used by the Centers for Disease Control until this date), among many other options.
December 10, 1982: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first reports on an infant who appears to have died from AIDS-related causes after multiple blood transfusions. This marks the first case of AIDS transmitted by transfusion, meaning that not just homosexuals are susceptible and that there is another way for AIDS to spread.


March 4, 1983: The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) issues a report listing the 4 Hs—homosexual men, hemophiliacs, Haitians, and heroin users (along with people who injected other drugs)—as the four groups in which most AIDS cases are found. The report suggests that AIDS can be transmitted sexually or via blood or blood products, and makes recommendations on how to prevent transmission.
May 1983: Congress, for the first time, passes a bill including funding specifically aimed at AIDS research and treatment: $12 million for agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
June 1983: People living with AIDS take the stage at the Second National AIDS Forum in Denver, and issue a statement now known as the “Denver Principles,” a document that sets forth the rights of people living with AIDS. This document becomes the charter of the National Association of People with AIDS.
July 25, 1983: The San Francisco General Hospital opens the first ward in the U.S. dedicated to AIDs. The ward is fully occupied within days.
September 9, 1983: The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) lists the primary ways that AIDS is transmitted and rules out transmission by casual contact, food, water, air, or environmental surfaces.
October 1983: The World Health Organization (WHO) holds its first meeting to address the global AIDS situation and start international surveillance.
1983: The GMHC and Lambda Legal file the first AIDS discrimination lawsuit after a New York doctor is threatened with closure of his practice, which is dedicated to treating people with AIDS.


April 24, 1984: Margaret Heckler, U.S. secretary of health and human services, announces that Dr. Robert Gallo and his colleagues at the National Cancer Institute have identified the retrovirus HTLV-III as the cause of AIDS, and that a diagnostic test has been developed.
October 1984: San Francisco orders the closure of bathhouses due to high-risk sexual activity at such venues. New York and Los Angeles follow suit within the year.


1985: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licenses the first commercial blood test, ELISA, to detect antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus in blood, and blood banks begin screening the U.S. blood supply.
1985: Ryan White, a middle school student from Indiana who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion used to treat his hemophilia, is denied entry to school. Ryan would go on to be one of the most influential speakers against AIDS discrimination and stigma in the U.S., testifying before Congress in 1988. Ryan passes away from AIDS-related illness on April 8, 1990.
April 15–17, 1985: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the World Health Organization hold the first international AIDS conference in Atlanta.
April 21, 1985: Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, one of the first plays about AIDS, opens in New York, garnering critical acclaim and raising awareness for AIDS.
September 17, 1985: President Ronald Reagan mentions AIDS publicly for the first time on national radio and television at a press conference at the White House.
October 2, 1985: Actor Rock Hudson dies of AIDS-related causes, bringing the epidemic newfound national recognition and ultimately transforming the public’s attitude about the disease from hatred and fear to compassion and motivation to find a cure/treatment because of his national stardom.


1986: AIDS activist Cleve Jones makes the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.


1987: And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts, is published. The book claims to know the identity of the man responsible for bringing AIDS to North America, saying that Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas was the culprit, giving him the name “Patient Zero.” This claim has since been disputed by numerous sources. Dugas died in 1984 from AIDS-related causes.,9171,145257,00.html
March 19, 1987: The FDA approves the first antiretroviral drug, zidovudine (AZT). Congress approves $30 million in emergency funding to states to provide treatment to people with HIV and AIDS, laying the foundation for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which provides grants to states and U.S. territories to improve the quality, availability, and organization of HIV/AIDS health care and support services.
March 1987: AIDS activist Larry Kramer founds ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in New York City.
May 16, 1987: The U.S. Public Health Service adds HIV as a “dangerous contagious disease” to its immigration exclusion list and requires the testing of all visa applicants.
May 31, 1987: President Reagan makes his first public speech about AIDS and establishes a Presidential Commission on HIV.
October 1987: The AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It features 1,920 three-by-six-foot panels and draws 500,000 visitors.


April 1988: The first comprehensive needle exchange program in North America is established in Tacoma, Washington. San Francisco establishes what would become the nation’s largest needle exchange program shortly thereafter. Needle exchange programs are organized services for the exchange of sterile needles and syringes used for injections as a potential means of reducing the infectious disease transmission.


1989: U.S. AIDS cases reach 100,000 in number.


July 1990: Congress enacts the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, including HIV/AIDS.
August 1990: Congress enacts the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990. This provides $220.5 million in federal funds for HIV community-based care and treatment services, the largest HIV-specific federal grant program.


1991: The Visual AIDS Artists Caucus launches the Red Ribbon Project to create a visual symbol to demonstrate compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers, which results in the well-known worldwide symbol of a single loop of red ribbon.
November 7, 1991: Professional basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson announces that he is HIV-positive, becoming one of the first celebrities to announce his diagnosis.


1992: AIDS becomes the number one cause of death for U.S. men ages 25–44.


June 10, 1993: President Clinton signs into law the NIH Revitalization Act, giving the Office of AIDS Research primary oversight of all NIH AIDS research, while also requiring xpanded involvement of women and minorities in all research and codifying the U.S.’s HIV immigration exclusion policy.
December 18, 1993: The CDC expands the definition of AIDS, stating that HIV-infected people with CD4 counts below 200 have AIDS.
1993: The film Philadelphia (based on a true story) starring Tom Hanks as a lawyer with AIDS opens in theaters, marking the first major Hollywood film about AIDS.
1993: Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, wins the Tony Award for Best Play and the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


1994: AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for all Americans between ages 25 and 44.


February 23, 1995: Greg Louganis, Olympic gold medal diver, discloses that he is HIV-positive. This announcement by the world’s former premier diver gives the public another face for the AIDS crisis and again calls for increased awareness of the disease.
March 26, 1995: Eric Lynn Wright, more commonly known by his rapper name Eazy-E, dies of AIDS-related illness one month after being diagnosed. His announcement of his diagnosis gave the world another celebrity face to associate with AIDS. He was one of the first major musical artists and, significantly, one of the first rap artists to announce he had the disease, bringing more widespread attention to the disease and making more communities aware of the dangers of AIDS. His death forces the hip-hop community to deal with AIDS, a subject previously considered taboo for rap artists. An awareness concert later that year helps magnify the importance of AIDS awareness for the hip-hop community and its fans.
June 1995: The FDA approves the first “protease inhibitor.” This ushers in a new era of “highly active antiretroviral therapy.”
1995: 500,000 cases of AIDS have been reported in the U.S. by the end of the year.
1995: The winter sees the first use of HIV/AIDS “cocktails,” combinations of three or more drugs. The medications cause death rates from AIDS to plummet, and allow those virtually on the brink of death to become well enough to leave the hospital and live a full life. However, these “cocktails’ also came with devastating side-effects much of the time and the pill regimens were challenging to maintain.


1996: AIDS loses its place as the top cause of death for all Americans ages 25–44, but remains in that spot for African Americans of that age.
January 25, 1996: The musical Rent opens Off Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop, the same day Jonathan Larson, its author and composer, dies. The play focuses around a group of artists and musicians, some with HIV/AIDS and drug addictions, in Greenwich Village. The play garnered mass critical acclaim, amassing four Tony wins along with six nominations and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, further raising awareness of AIDS and drug abuse in New York City.
October 1996: The AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed in its entirety for the last time. It covers the entire National Mall in Washington, D.C.


1997: The CDC reports the first substantial decline in AIDS deaths in the U.S. The decline by 47 percent compared with the previous year is attributed largely to use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
1997: UNAIDS estimates that 30 million people worldwide have HIV, and each day 16,000 people are infected with the virus.


1998: The CDC reports that African Americans account for 49 percent of AIDS-related deaths in the U.S., ten times that of whites and three times that of Hispanics.
October 1998: President Clinton declares AIDS to be a “severe and ongoing health crisis” in African American and Hispanic communities in the United States, and announces a special package of initiatives to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on racial and ethnic minorities. Also in 1998, Congress, with the leadership of the CDC, funds the Minority AIDS Initiative, which invests $156 million in the improvement of the nation’s effectiveness in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS in African American, Hispanic, and other minority communities.


1999: The WHO announces that HIV/AIDS has become the fourth largest cause of death worldwide and the number one cause of death in Africa. WHO estimates that 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide and 14 million people have died of AIDS.


November 7, 2002: The FDA approves the first rapid HIV diagnostic test kit for use in the U.S. Providing results with 99.6 percent accuracy in as little as twenty minutes, the test greatly increases HIV testing, especially because of the test’s ability to sit at room temperature and be used outside clinical settings.


2003: The CDC calculates that 27,000 of the 40,000 estimated new infections that occur in the U.S. result from spread of the disease by individuals who do not know they are infected.


February 2004: UNAIDS launches the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS to raise visibility of the epidemic’s impact on women and girls around the world.
March 26, 2004: The FDA approves the use of oral fluid samples with a rapid HIV diagnostic test kit that produces a result in about twenty minutes.


January 26, 2005: The WHO, UNAIDS, the U.S. government, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria announce the results of joint efforts to increase the availability of antiretroviral drugs in developing countries. These efforts result in medical staff reaching by medical staff of an estimated 700,000 people by the end of 2004.


2007: The CDC reports that over 565,000 people have died of AIDS in the U.S. since 1981.


November 7, 2008: The Wall Street Journal reports the first-ever case of a cured AIDS patient, Timothy Ray Brown (the “Berlin Patient”). Though impractical for large-scale use, the treatment, which involves transplanting bone marrow from an HIV-resistant donor, presents hope for future advances toward a widespread cure.


October 30, 2009: President Obama announces that his administration will officially lift the HIV travel and immigration ban in January 2010, by removing the final regulatory barriers to entry. The ban’s lift occurs in conjunction with the announcement that the International AIDS Conference will return to the U.S. for the first time in more than twenty years. It is held in Washington, D.C., in 2012.
November 24, 2009: UNAIDS reports a decline of 17 percent in new HIV infections in the past decade, although East Asia sees a 25 percent increase in infections during that same period.


2010: The NIH announces the results of the iPrEx study, which shows that a daily dose of HIV drugs reduced the risk of HIV infection among HIV-negative homosexual men by 44 percent.


July 13, 2011: A new CDC study (TDF2) and a separate trial (the Partners PrEP study) provide the first evidence that a daily oral dose of antiretroviral drugs can also reduce HIV transmission among uninfected people exposed to the virus through heterosexual sex. On July 17–20, at the International AIDS Society’s Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment, and Prevention in Rome, scientists announce that two studies confirmed that individuals taking daily antiretroviral drugs experienced infection rates more than 60 percent lower than those on a placebo.


March 3, 2013: Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center announces what she says is the first case of a baby being functionally cured of HIV infection. The baby was treated with an aggressive regiment of drugs upon birth, a new means of treatment. The claim that the baby was “cured” is disputed by Christine Rouzioux and Asier Sáez-Cirión, who say that fourteen French adults showed similar signs of remission but officially still had the disease.
July 3, 2013: After undergoing similar treatment to the “Berlin Patient,” two HIV-positive patients from Boston are also allegedly cured.

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