On June 5, 1981, the US Center For Disease Control first documented the existence of a syndrome of severe immune deficiency in five gay men in Los Angeles. Twenty years later, 22 million people have died worldwide, more than 40 thousand of them here in the United Kingdom. In some African nations, 20 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive. And 40 million children in Africa will be orphaned during the next decade.

Though drug therapies have advanced rapidly here in the Western world, HIV infection is still rising. In the UK the number of cases of newly diagnosed HIV infection rose by 14 per cent last year, the largest percentage annual increase seen in Britain.

It's thought a growing complacency over safer sex practices is to blame for the increase. The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), who keep UK HIV/AIDS statistics , said that that the figures were worrying, as it demonstrated that too many people were ignoring the advice of experts and engaging in unprotected sex.
Across the Atlantic HIV infection amongst black US gays is of epidemic proportions, comparable with those of Botswana. And young white gay men in the states are also ignoring safe sex messages: "For some people, AIDS has become a manageable, chronic disease due to access to more effective drug treatments," said AIDS campaigner Tim McFeeley.
"While this is good news, it has perhaps led to a sense of complacency about the disease within our community, particularly in young people who do not remember the early stages of the epidemic." Here in the UK there's real concern that we could see a big rise in full-blown AIDS in future years and not just in the gay community.
Statistics show there were 3,425 new cases of HIV last year. Nearly half were acquired through heterosexual sex, whilst 37 per cent were homosexual. Sharing needles during drug use is another big cause of infection. This is the second year running that heterosexual rates have exceeded homosexual ones.
 
Dr Barry Evans of the PHLS says "Many of those being diagnosed are people who were infected some years ago but who are now only coming forward for testing." A former US AIDS czar Sandra Thurman calls the disease "an epidemic the likes of which humankind has never seen."
Photos:UNICEF/Sattlberger,AVERT,UNAIDS/Neeleman
Next we trace the history of AIDS and how it's cut a swathe through the our community.

ICEBERGS AND TOMBSTONES

CONDOMS AND COCKTAILS

See OutReach for a full listing of HIV and AIDS resources and advice organisations

 

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