A History of HIV & AIDS – 1989

As we prepare to enter our 25th year, we are reflecting on the global HIV events from the last three decades.  HIV has swept across the globe and support touching communities on every continent.  Here’s an introduction to some of the key moments in the early global history of HIV.  Catch up on the story using the ‘Recent Posts’ link to the right.

1989: On February 7th, the FDA announced that it was going to approve an aerosol form of the drug Pentamidine for the treatment of PCP (Pneumocystis Pneumonia) AIDS Patents.  It’s still in use today for some people with PCP.

By March 1st, 145 countries had reported 142,000 cases of AIDS to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO regarded this as under-reporting, and estimated the actual number of people with AIDS around the world to be over 400,000. It was predicted that this figure would rise to 1.1 million by 1991. It was also estimated that 5-10 million people were already infected with HIV.

Click to read Hans Paul’s letter to the US Government

A Dutch man, Hans Paul Verhoef, was imprisoned in Minnesota, USA because did not declare that he had HIV when he entered the country.  Mr. Verhoef landed at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport en route to a gay and lesbian health conference in San Francisco in April 1989.

After his medicine was found (AZT) in his luggage he was detained under a 1987 law that allows the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deny entry to visitors with AIDS or the AIDS virus. (sic)

Supporters intervened in his behalf, and Mr. Verhoef was released after five days and allowed to attend the conference.

In August, results from a major drug trial known as ACTG019 were announced.  The trial showed that AZT could slow progression to AIDS in HIV positive individuals with no symptoms.  These findings were thought to be extremely positive; on August 17th a press conference was held, at which the Health Secretary, Louis Sullivan said:

“Today we are witnessing a turning point in the battle to change AIDS from a fatal disease to a treatable one.”

The initial optimism was short-lived when the price of the drug was revealed. A year’s supply for one person would cost around $7,000, and many Americans did not have adequate health insurance to cover the cost.  Burroughs Wellcome, the makers of AZT, were accused of ‘price gouging and profiteering’.  In September, the cost of the drug was cut by 20 percent.

By this time, 100,000 people diagnosed with AIDS had been reported to the CDC.  The proportion of AIDS diagnoses among women had increased, and smaller cities and rural areas were increasingly affected.

The television movie “The Ryan White Story” aired. It starred Judith Light as Jeanne, Lukas Haas as Ryan and Nikki Cox as Sister Andrea. Ryan White had a small cameo appearance as Chad, a young patient with AIDS.

Another AIDS-themed film, The Littlest Victims, also debuted in 1989, biopic-ing James Oleske, the first U.S. physician to discover AIDS in new born children during the early years of AIDS when many thought it was only spread by homosexual sex and drug use.

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