HIV/AIDS 1981 to present
The most significant pandemic of our time is HIV/AIDS. AIDS was first identified in 1981, and spread through gay men in the United States. It was, at the time, always lethal. In total, over the course of the epidemic, around 70 million people have been infected with HIV, and around 35 million people have died.
By 1983, scientists had identified the link between HIV and AIDS, recognizing that HIV caused AIDS. The number of HIV infections increased quickly, peaking in 1997. AIDS-related deaths peaked in the mid-2000s. HIV is spread through sexual contact, intravenous drug use, and from mother to child.
Today, access to antiretroviral therapies can reduce the risk of AIDS-related deaths. Many people can live healthy lives for many years with antiretroviral therapies, and approximately 39 percent of those infected with HIV take such medications. In addition, the reduced viral load associated with these medications lowers the risk of transmission. Unfortunately, three out of five people infected with HIV do not have access to life-saving antiretroviral medications. Without treatment, HIV eventually damages and destroys the body’s immune system.
The global pandemic has been largely controlled in many parts of the developed world, with reductions in new infections and in deaths from AIDS-related causes. Today, the most significant toll of HIV/AIDS is in Sub-Saharan Africa. Two-thirds of new HIV infections in 2014 occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, these are the populations least likely to have access to antiretroviral drug therapies. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one out of every 25 people, or 4.7 percent of the population, is infected with HIV.