Updated 24 June 2014

Aids graphic: a brief history

In South Africa alone, it is estimated that 2000 new people are infected with HIV every day, and with 4 million HIV-positive. Take a look at the history of Aids.

A brief history of HIV/Aids
The most devastating disease of our time

In South Africa alone, it is estimated that
2 000 new people are infected with HIV every day. Four million people are thought to be HIV-positive and the rate of infection appears to show no sign of slowing down. What is the history of this disease and where does it come from?
1926 - 1947
4Scientists believe that HIV spread from the green monkeys to humans in Africa during this time. But it's not until the 1930's that it established itself as an epidemic strain in Africa.
4A man dies in the Congo from what researchers now believe must have been the first proven Aids death.
4Dr Michael Gottlieb at UCLA sees a case of pneumonia and discovers that the patient's blood lacks T-helper cells, part of the immune system. In the same year 31 deaths occur in the US that are later found to be HIV-related.

4By the beginning of 1981, 41 gay men in the US suffer from what is initially thought to be a rare cancer - Kaposi's Sarcoma.
4On July 5th, the New York Times publishes its first article on the disease, titled, 'Rare Cancer seen in 41 Homosexuals'. Of the 152 reported cases 128 patients are dead by the end of 1981.


4The disease is initially named Grid (Gay-related Immune Deficiency). As heterosexual Haitian refugees also test positive and scientists begin to believe that the disease is contagious and blood-borne, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) renames the disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids).
4The first blood transfusion recipient is identified with Aids in the US. Women, babies and intravenous drug abusers also count among the victims of the disease, which in 1982 is reported in 14 nations worldwide.


4Dr Luc Montagner and his team announce that they have isolated a retrovirus that probably causes Aids. They are later proved correct.
4In 1983 Aids is reported in 33 countries.
4Two strains of Aids are identified in Europe - one is linked to Africa and the other to gay men who have visited the USA.
4HIV-positive children cause a scare, because that people think the disease can be transmitted casually.


4African doctors reveal that Aids is the same disease as Slim disease - so-called because sufferers waste away before death. This disease is no newcomer to Africa.
4The different modes of HIV transmission are revealed and it becomes known that people can transmit the disease without showing any outward signs of the disease.
4Dr Robert Gallo and his team of researchers announce that they have isolated the cause of HIV.


4Rock Hudson dies of Aids.
4US blood banks begin screening their blood supplies.
4Dr Gallo's laboratory patents a test kit and is sued for half of the royalties by the Pasteur Institute of Dr Luc Montagner.
4Ryan White, a 13-year-old haemophiliac is barred from his school, because he's HIV-positive.
4In Uganda and other countries in Central Africa the disease is rife.


4An international committee rules that the viruses LAV and HTLV-III are the same and should be replaced by the new name Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
4The WHO recommends providing sterile needles to drug abusers.

1987 - 1989

4The first HIV-drug (AZT) is approved by American authorities.
4In 1988 health ministers from around the world meet in London to discuss the HIV/Aids epidemic.
4In 1988 the first World Aids Day is held on December 1st.
4After many public demonstrations, the drug company Burroughs Wellcome lowers the price of AZT by 20 percent.


4Ronald Reagan apologises for neglecting the Aids issue during his term.
4The WHO estimates the number of people living with HIV and Aids worldwide at more than 1 million.
4Sub-Saharan Africa begins to emerge as a particularly heavily affected area.

1991 - 1992

4Uganda becomes the first developing country where there is a downturn in the rate of infections. This is ascribed to countrywide mobilisation against the disease.
4Magic Johnson, basketball hero, announces his HIV status and his retirement from the game.
4The WHO now estimates HIV infections worldwide to be more in the region of 10 million.
4The first clinical trial of multiple drugs is held in the US.


4Four French blood bank officials are sent to prison for allowing HIV-tainted blood into the blood banks.
4Tennis star Arthur Ashe and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev die of Aids.

1995 - 1996

4The US admits that it was the Institut Pasteur, not Dr Robert Gallo, who discovered the virus that caused AIDS.
4Four people in Germany are convicted for selling AIDS-tainted blood.
4Time magazine's 1996 Man of the Year is AIDS researcher Dr David Ho.
4Nevirapine anti-HIV drug is approved for use in the US.


4The approximate total worldwide death count attributable to Aids is 6,4 million. About 22 million people are thought to be living with HIV/Aids.
4In Sub-Saharan Africa, the problem of growing numbers of Aids orphans becomes a major issue.

1998 - 1999

4The first short-course regimen to prevent mother-to-child transmission is made available.
4More than 15 years after predictions of an Aids vaccine within two years, the first human trials of a vaccine begin.
4The stigma of being HIV-positive is clearly illustrated when an African Aids activist is beaten to death by neighbours after publicly admitting that she was HIV-positive.


4South African president Thabo Mbeki enters the fray by questioning the use and effectiveness of HIV medications and expressing doubt that HIV causes Aids.
4At least 10 percent of the South African population are estimated to be HIV-positive with an estimated 2000 new infections daily.


4US pharmaceutical companies drop their patent lawsuits, paving the way for European companies to manufacture and distribute cheaper HIV medications to Sub-Saharan Africa.
4In countries like South Africa, HIV/Aids becomes a major political issue. Child Aids activist Nkosi Johnson dies, highlighting the plight of children living with Aids, and Aids orphans.
4Since 1981, 21 million people have died of Aids worldwide - 17 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.
4This region is by far the most affected by HIV. Some 3.4 million people were infected this year alone, bringing the number to 28.1 million. Prevalence rates among pregnant women exceed 30%.
4A total of 40 million people around the world are estimated to be living with HIV/Aids.


4Five million people will have become infected with HIV this year, bringing to a record 42 million the number of individuals living with Aids or the virus that causes it.
4Fourteen thousand people each day contract the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
4Africa south of the Sahara accounts for more than two-thirds of HIV infections and Aids deaths.
4The HIV/Aids numbers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia regions rose by some 250 000 to 1.2 million.
4In South Africa, the number of pregnant women under the age of 20 who are HIV positive fell to 15.4 percent last year, compared to 21 percent in 1998.
4For the first time in the 20-year history of the Aids epidemic, just as many women as men are infected with HIV.


4The William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation secures price reductions for HIV/Aids drugs from generic manufacturers, to benefit developing nations. In the same year, incoming President Bush announces PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. PEPFAR is a five-year, $15 billion inititiative to address HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria in hard hit countries.


4South African medical schemes decide not to exclude people from life cover because they are HIV-positive. The antiretroviral roll-out begins in South Africa.


4The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) filed an urgent application in the Cape High Court for an interdict against the activities of controversial vitamin salesman Matthias Rath and his Dr Rath Health Foundation. This followed accusations that the Foundation sells and distributes unregistered medicines and makes false claims that they are effective in treating or preventing Aids.

4Access to antiretrovirals in poor countries increase, but still does not reach the WHO's "Three by Five" goal. UNAIDS and WHO, in their annual estimate, say Aids killed 3.1 million people in 2005 and some five million people became infected. The total living with HIV or Aids stands at a record of 40.3 million.

Visit Health24’s HIV/Aids Centre

Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules