This week marks 30 years since the discovery of Aids (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) a disease caused by the HIV virus which reduces the human immune sytem. It was discovered when eight cases of a rare skin cancer in New York were reported in medical journal The Lancet at the same time as an unusual outbreak of a killer pneumonia among the California's gay community. These were soon found to be symptoms of, or caused by, Aids. In December, a 49-year-old man died of an Aids-related illness in Brompton Hospital, the first known British victim of the disease.
Aids was a worldwide epidemic, with cases on every continent. The first antiretroviral drug was approved by the FDA and the first needle exchange in the UK was opened in Dundee. While the government attempted to educate the public about the disease, Princess Diana did a lot to alter perceptions as she shook hands with Aids patients at Middlesex Hospital in London.
NBA basketball star Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. Freddie Mercury became the first high-profile person to die of an Aids-related illness in Britain; he died of bronchopneumonia a day after revealing that he had Aids. EastEnders character Mark Fowler was diagnosed as HIV positive on the show, a storyline that resulted in a peak of requests for HIV testing.
UN member states agreed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015, including those dedicated to the treatment and eradication of Aids. They aimed to halt and reverse the spread of HIV through education for those affected. They also agreed to achieve – by 2010 – universal access to antiretroviral treatment for HIV/Aids for those who need it most.
While in many developed countries Aids is now considered a chronic condition rather than a fatal disease, it is estimated that 33m people lived with HIV or Aids in 2008, many of them in underdeveloped countries. That year the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for their crucial work in discovering, and fighting, the HIV virus.