Sexual & General Health


History of the Pandemic (1970s - 2000s)


  • The first cases of infection with the virus that leads to AIDS occurred in the mid to late 70s, though at the time the disease was unknown.


  • The virus had spread to at least five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Australia.


  • The medical profession first became aware that a new disease was appearing. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that a rare form of pneumonia had killed five young gay men in Los Angeles.
  • A survey of blood samples of 100 gay men at St Mary's Hospital, London, showed many immune cell abnormalities. The men showed a decreased ability to fight off disease.


  • More cases were being identified, and the disease was variously named �Gay Compromise Syndrome�, �Gay Cancer� and �GRIDS� (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
  • The name AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was adopted for the disease, although much was still unknown.
  • Evidence emerged that AIDS was caused by an infectious agent, and could be sexually transmitted.
  • Terrence Higgins, the first Briton whose death was attributed to AIDS, died, and the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) was formed by his friends.


  • It was reported that AIDS could be passed on heterosexually between men and women.
  • The first British cases of AIDS among patients with haemophilia, who had received contaminated blood products, were identified.
  • Doctors at the Institute Pasteur in France reported that they had isolated a new virus, which they believed was the cause of AIDS. The virus was named LAV (Lymphadenopathy-Associated Virus).


  • The American government announced that Dr Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute had isolated the virus which caused AIDS, and that it was called HTLV-III.


  • It was found that LAV and HTLV-III were in fact the same virus.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) organised an international meeting to consider the AIDS pandemic and initiate concerted worldwide action.
  • A blood test for antibodies caused by the virus was developed.
  • UK blood transfusion centres began the routine testing of all blood donations.
  • At a time when there were only 108 confirmed cases in Britain, the Royal College of Nursing forecast that a million people in Britain would develop AIDS unless current trends were checked.


  • The International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses decided on the use of the term Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) instead of LAV or HTLV-III.
  • The first government AIDS campaign was launched in Britain in the form of full-page national newspaper ads.


  • More than half the people with severe haemophilia in Britain, France, West Germany and Australia were reported to have been infected by HIV. In the US the figure was close to 100%.
  • Early clinical results of the drug azidothymidine (AZT) revealed it slowed down the attack of HIV. AZT had first been synthesized in 1964 as a possible anticancer drug, but had proved ineffective.
  • The British government launched a major advertising campaign with the slogan "AIDS - don�t die of ignorance".
  • The UK's first specialist AIDS hospital ward was opened by Princess Diana.
  • The World Health Organisation estimated that 5 to 10 million people were infected with HIV worldwide.


  • The first World AIDS Day took place on 1st December.


  • The second drug for the treatment of AIDS, dideoxyinosine (DDL), started to be made available, even though only preliminary tests had been completed.


  • The International AIDS Society (IAS) announced that no IAS-sponsored conference would be held in a country that restricted the entry of HIV infected travellers. As a result of the US's travel policy, no major international AIDS conference has been held in America since 1990.
  • Britain's Prime Minister John Major announced that the government would pay �42 million compensation to haemophiliacs infected with HIV and their dependents.


  • The largest peak in requests for HIV testing were recorded in the UK when the character Mark Fowler, in the BBC television series Eastenders, was diagnosed HIV-positive.
  • The red ribbon became the international symbol of AIDS awareness.


  • The World Health Organisation set a target for prevention: that the whole population at risk of AIDS in Africa and Asia should live in communities where condoms were both readily available and affordable.


  • Positive Lives, a unique photographic exhibition showing different images from around the world of people with and connected to HIV/AIDS, was launched in the UK.


  • The Department of Health vetoed an AIDS campaign promoting safer sex, developed at a cost of �2 million, on the grounds that it was too explicit.
  • It was estimated that worldwide there were 3 men infected with HIV for every 2 women, but by the year 2000 the number of new infections among women would equal those among men.


  • The CDC announced that in the US, AIDS had become the leading cause of death in Americans aged 25 to 44.
  • The Federal Drug Agency approved the first of a potent new family of anti-HIV drugs called protease inhibitors.
  • 18 million adults and 1.5 million children were estimated to have been infected with HIV since the beginning of the pandemic.


  • A viral load test was developed, which provided information about the risk of disease progression.
  • Effective combination therapies were launched, resulting in a dramatic increase in the life expectancy of people with HIV and AIDS in countries were the therapies were available.
  • It was estimated that the number of people living with HIV worldwide was nearly 23 million. In addition, 6.4 million had died.


  • For the first time since the AIDS pandemic had started, the number of deaths from the disease dropped substantially across the US.
  • It was estimated that 1 in 100 adults in the 15-49 age range were thought to be HIV-positive, with only 1 in 10 aware of their infection.


  • Side effects, such as lipodystrophy, began to cast some doubt on the long term safety of combination therapies.


  • According to the World Health Report, AIDS had become the fourth biggest killer worldwide.
  • T-20, a new class of drug called a fusion inhibitor, went into clinical trials.
  • UNAIDS estimated that 33 million people around the world were living with HIV and AIDS, and that 2.6 million had died of AIDS in 1999 � the most of any year since the pandemic began.


  • In the UK it was reported that, for the first time, the number of newly diagnosed heterosexually-acquired HIV infections was higher than the number of newly diagnosed homosexually-acquired infections.
  • Prince Charles visited the London Lighthouse, the pioneering, purpose built support centre for people with HIV and AIDS.
  • The Public Health Laboratory Service estimated that the number of people living with diagnosed HIV infection in the UK was rising by at least 10% a year.


  • Newspapers worldwide marked the 20th anniversary of the first published report on AIDS.
  • It was reported that the UK saw the largest number of new HIV cases in the year 2000, with 3,435 new diagnoses.


  • The Terrence Higgins Trust marked 20 years of HIV and AIDS in the UK with a variety of events and activities.
  • A study showed that approximately 50% of Americans still wrongly believed that they could contract HIV through everyday contact.
  • Major Spanish research found that over 19,000 instances of unprotected oral sex did not lead to a single case of HIV transmission among 135 HIV-negative heterosexuals who were in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner.
  • For the first time, it was reported that women accounted for about half of all HIV-positive adults.
  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan used World AIDS Day to speak out against HIV-related stigma and discrimination.


  • The World Health Organisation announced that the failure to provide antiretroviral treatment to nearly 6 million people with HIV and AIDS in developing countries was a global public health emergency.
  • It was reported that the number of people infected with HIV in the UK increased by almost 20% between 2001 and 2002, from 41,700 to 49,500, with 31% remaining undiagnosed.
  • UNAIDS estimated that every day in 2003 14,000 people became infected with HIV. They also estimated that 40 million around the world, including 2.5 million children, were living with HIV.


  • In parts of Russia and eastern Europe, HIV was found to be spreading at the fastest rates in the world.
  • In the UK, a man jailed for 8 years in October 2003 for inflicting biological grievous bodily harm by infecting two lovers with HIV won the right to a retrial. Mohammed Dica had been the first person in 137 years to be convicted in England and Wales for sexually transmitting a disease.


  • After three trials, Mohammed Dica was sentenced to four and a half years at the Old Bailey.