Today, is World AIDS Day, and while the pandemic continues to devastate millions of lives, we can also honor some achievements. CDC reports that when PEPFAR (the US President’s Plan for AIDS Relief) started in 2003, fewer than 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa were getting antiretroviral drugs; now, thanks to a global collaboration, more than 5 million people in low- and middle-income countries receive this treatment. We’ve also seen some encouraging results from research on vaginal microbicidal gel and daily antiretrovirals to prevent new infections.

Care for the 33.4 million people living with HIV worldwide will continue to be a major undertaking, and we’re still a long way from stopping the virus’s spread. Approximately 2.7 million new infections occurred in 2008, and approximately 56,000 people in the US become infected each year. Discrimination and disparities are ongoing problems.

LIFE has a photo slideshow on the history of AIDS, and one of the pictures that amazed me was of Princess Diana shaking an AIDS patient’s hand in 1987. The caption reports that she was “the first high-profile celebrity to be photographed knowingly touching a person infected with the HIV virus.” Was it just 23 years ago that people thought HIV could be spread by handshakes?

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