Remembering June 5th

Content From: Tammy R. Beckham, DVM, PhD, Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: June 05, 20193 min read


Banner from MMWR from June 5, 1981. In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carnii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.
Banner from CDC's 1981 MMWR publication on the cases that became known as AIDS.
Credit: CDC

Today we recognize that, 38 years ago, the CDC published the first report of what would come to be known as the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As we reflect on the way HIV has affected our nation since that publication on June 5, 1981, we also recognize that some of the things that were challenges in responding to HIV then are still challenges today—including stigma. We are working to overcome those challenges with Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America, in concert with other HHS policy and program initiatives and in collaboration with stakeholders from all sectors of society.

We know that addressing and reducing stigma is an important part of preventing HIV transmission and improving the lives and health of those already living with the virus. In a recent conversation at the Kaiser Family FoundationExit Disclaimer, the Assistant Secretary for Health, ADM Brett Giroir, who is responsible for coordinating the plan to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S., said: “Stigma is the enemy of public health.” This is true for many health issues, but especially for HIV.

The history of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. is one of disproportionate impact on some of our most stigmatized citizens, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men of all races and ethnicities, people who inject drugs, and transgender women. From the beginning, the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV made the epidemic substantially worse.

But now—38 years later—we have the right data to help us find and stop new outbreaks of HIV. We have the right biomedical prevention and treatment tools (like treatment-as-prevention and PrEP) to protect the lives and health of both those living with HIV and those at risk of acquiring it. And we intend to use these resources to put an end to both HIV and stigma, as we work to achieve the goals of the new presidential initiative. As you know, the goals of this ambitious plan are to reduce HIV transmissions in the United States by 75 percent in five years and by 90 percent by 2030. That means we will prevent an estimated 400,000 new HIV transmissions over the next 10 years.

So on this “day of remembrance,” we mourn those we’ve lost to HIV and honor those who work tirelessly in response to the epidemic. We also celebrate HIV Long-Term Survivors Day to honor the strength and resilience of people living with HIV for decades.

And, as we move forward with the unique opportunity that the new initiative offers us, we will work together to end the HIV epidemic and the stigma that has fed it for so long.

To learn more about the plan, please sign up to the listserv. You can also learn about recent activities to update the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and new information about Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) on the blog.