In 2000, HIV/AIDS was the cause of 2.8% of all deaths. In 2015, 1.9%.
HIV/AIDS can be cured right now, by using Cas9-mediated genome editing to literally snip the HIV right out of the cells of the body.
The most accurate, quick, and cheap test currently available is TZA, which can detect latent HIV within 7 days, detecting up to 70 times more latent HIV than other tests such as the current standard, QVOA.
AIDS is a disease that’s caused by a virus called HIV. It attacks the immune system itself, leaving the body defenceless to any new infection that comes afterwards.
I'm going to start this chapter with a history detailing the horror of how AIDS grew year by year in an unstoppable surge. If you want to skip it, the first real breakthrough happened in 1995.
History of AIDS
The first case of a person infected with HIV was in a man who died in the Congo in 1959. We know it was HIV because some of his blood was preserved, and examined years later.
Later that year, a Jamaican American, Ardouin Antonio, died in New York, USA, from Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Ardouin was 49 years old.
This pneumonia is not usually fatal. In fact, more than 75% of 4-year-olds have markers in their blood that show they were infected by it at some point.
The fact that a 49-year-old man would die of such a common non-fatal disease (it usually doesn’t even cause any symptoms at all) was so unusual that the postmortem examiner preserved his lungs for further study. The doctor, Gordon Hennigar, has since then been quoted as saying that he believes Ardouin had AIDS.
Over the next few decades, an increasing number of strange deaths were reported that baffled the doctors of the time; A truck driver in Norway, a physician in Denmark, an airline hostess in the Congo.
In 1980 in the US, a man called Ken Horne was diagnosed with Kaposi’s syndrome (a kind of herpes), which was reported to the CDC. This was followed by what seemed like an outbreak of Kaposi’s. Some of the people that exhibited the disease died.
This was strange because Kaposi’s was known as an “old man’s disease”, and it rarely killed. People who contracted it usually lasted long enough to die of something else.
Deaths from Pneumocystis pneumonia started being reported in increasing amounts. A Danish man in Copenhagen, a Zairian woman in Paris.
Selma Dritz of the CDC finally linked the two together and figured out that there was something attacking the auto-immune disorders of these people, and worked with her team towards finding out what it was that was doing the attacking.
By that time, HIV had become an epidemic.
In 1981, 121 people, mostly gay, are known to have died of AIDS.
It was realised in 1981 that AIDS was affecting mostly the gay community, but it was unknown what was the cause. The disease was called GRID at the time, for Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.
The CDC created a 2-hour 24 page questionairre asking everything from what kind of plants the patients owned, to whether they used poppers (a kind of inhaled drug), dog sprays, airplane glue.
The US government at the time refused to pay for research on a drug that was apparently only affecting gay people. It wasn’t until two years later that the CDC could pay for a statistician to look at the questionairres, and even then, all that the statistician could figure out was that it mostly affected men who were active with multiple partners.
This, combined with the fact that a baby was infected through blood transfusion in late 1982, showed that the disease was in the blood and could be transmitted through body fluids.
The disease was renamed AIDS.
First cases of AIDS reported in Africa and Canada.
By the end of 1982, 618 deaths were recorded in the US.
Doctors in France isolated a virus they called LAV which they thought was the cause.
In 1983, it was discovered that AIDS could infect women through heterosexual sex.
The World Health Organisation began global surveillance for cases of AIDS.
From never being diagnosed at all only a few years before, AIDS was suddenly visible everywhere. There were diagnoses in 33 countries that year. Fifteen in Europe, seven in Latin America.
By the end of 1983, there were 2118 deaths in the US.
An epidemic of AIDS through heterosexual sex was reported in Africa.
In 1984, 5596 people died of AIDS in the US.
Ronald Reagan had been president of the United States since 1981 and never once mentioned AIDS in public, until 1985, when he said that children with AIDS should not associate with other school children. In 1982, his press secretary Larry Speakes had joked at an official White House press briefing about people dying of it. I didn’t want to get political in this book, but if people are dying, you don’t joke about it – you fix it.
That year, a 13-year-old boy with AIDS was barred from a school, and the US Department Of Defense announced a policy of rejecting recruits that tested positive for HIV, and Ronald Reagan finally realised that the disease could affect him personally, when his friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS.
Doctors in the US discover a virus they call HTLV-III which they believe is the cause. It turns out this is the same virus isolated by the French two years before.
In March 1985, the US government finally granted a license for the CDC to test an AIDS antibody.
In 1985, 12,529 people died in the US.
It is discovered that AIDS can be transmitted from mother to daughter through breast-feeding.
1986, 24,559 people died.
Finally, in 1987, the first anti-HIV drug was approved by the US FDA. Called AZT, it was the most expensive drug in history, costing $10,000 for a one year supply.
The US government bans HIV-infected travellers and immigrants from entering the country.
Sales of condoms rocketed when it was advertised, correctly, that they can help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
In 1987, AIDS became the first ever disease to be debated at the UN General Assembly.
1987, 40,849 people died of AIDS in the US.
The number of people dying every year of AIDS in the US rose gradually until in 2000, 448,060 people died in the US.
By March 1989, WHO estimated that there were 400,000 cases of AIDS worldwide.
In May 1992, the International AIDS Conference, which had been scheduled to be held in Boston, USA, was moved to Amsterdam, Holland, because the USA had a ban on immigration of all HIV-infected people.
Also that month, the FDA licensed a 10 minute test which could detect HIV-1.
By the end of 1993, there were an estimated 2,500,000 cases of AIDS worldwide.
Finally, a breakthrough
1995. Finally, a ray of hope appeared when the FDA approved a protease inhibitor, which help begin a series of new highly active antiretroviral treatments (HAART). When introduced into medical practice, this immediately caused a decline of about 70% in AIDS-related deaths in all countries that could afford the treatment.
Next year, in 1996, the FDA approved Nevirapine, a non-nucleoside transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) which had a similar effect on AIDS as the protease inhibitor had the year before.
By 1999, AIDS was the number four killer in the world, and the number one killer in Africa.
The next year, UNAIDS negotiated with five pharmaceutical companies to arrange reduced prices for their drugs for developing countries.
In 2001, generic pharmaceutical companies such as Cipla in India started producing their own AIDS drugs, forcing the larger companies to reduce their prices even further, helping to therefore save more lives.
2005 was the year when most people died of AIDS, with 2,200,000 people dying of the disease. Since then, the disease has been in decline, as we find more and more ways of preventing and treating it.
It was found in 2006 that circumcision reduces incidences of female-to-male transmission by 60%.
In 2010, the Tenofovir microbicide gel was found to reduce transmission to females by 40%, and it was shown that gay men who took a pre-exposure prophylaxis pill (PrEP) had a reduction of 44% in transmission.
2012 was the first time that more than 50% of people in need of treatment for HIV/AIDS got it, with 54% of people receiving treatment.
On the 3rd of May, 2017, a research paper was released detail research which had found a way to completely snip HIV right out of the DNA of infected mice. Human trials are still to be announced, but this could finally be the hammer in the nail of one of the scariest diseases we've experienced since the Black Plague.