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APLA Health Commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the AIDS Epidemic

Five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia were the first documented cases of AIDS-Related infections

June 3, 2021 – Forty years ago this month, the first sign of the HIV/AIDS epidemic appeared as a 527-word report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on June 5, 1981. The report’s lead writer, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, described five previously healthy, young men in Los Angeles treated for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP). Of the five men, two died before the report was published. An editorial note accompanying report noted the cases represented a “cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure.” Physicians in cities across the country reported similar cases following this initial report.

AIDS Project Los Angeles was formed a year later, with a mission to provide support for people with AIDS. Our goal was to help them live as long as possible and stay connected to the world around them while at the same time educating the community and preventing the spread of the disease.

Forty years later, more than 32.7 million people have died from AIDS-related complications worldwide, AIDS Project Los Angeles is now APLA Health, and Dr. Gottlieb is one of our distinguished resident physicians.
“I remember those first five men more clearly than patients I saw last week. They were an indelible part of not just the history of the crisis, but also my history,” said Dr. Michael Gottlieb.

“This is a somber anniversary. Those five previously healthy men were the canaries in the coal mine for a disease that would decimate an entire generation across the globe. Forty years later, we are still living with HIV and AIDS,” said Craig E. Thompson, CEO of APLA Health. “Unfortunately, we are still living with HIV and AIDS. But the critical thing is that we are “living” and no longer dying. Thanks to science, we understand that individuals who are linked to care and have undetectable levels of the virus are unable to transmit HIV to their partners, a concept called undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U). We also have available pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP and PEP) to help prevent people from getting HIV in the first place.”

Added Dr. Gottlieb, “The medical advances we have seen since 1981 are remarkable. APLA Health has been able to continue to change the way we treat those living with HIV. As a result of new treatments, people with HIV are able to live long, productive lives. However, many long-term survivors living with HIV since before the modern era of effective HIV drugs, continue to struggle with a high degree of comorbidities and multimorbidities.”
“We must continue to work as a community to end the AIDS epidemic. We have the tools and knowledge, now we need the collective will to make sure that AIDS does not stick around for a 50th anniversary,” Thompson added.

VIDEO: Dr Michael Gottlieb explains the events leading up to the June 5th MMWR and subsequent advances in medical care for people living with HIV and preventing new diagnoses.

ABOUT APLA HEALTH: APLA Health’s mission is to achieve healthcare equity and promote well-being for the LGBTQ+ and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV. We remain committed to ending the AIDS epidemic in our lifetime. We are a nonprofit, federally qualified health center serving more than 18,000 people annually. We provide 20 different services at 16 locations throughout Los Angeles County, including: medical, dental, behavioral health and HIV specialty care; PrEP counseling and management; health education and HIV prevention; and STD screening and treatment. For people living with HIV, we offer housing support; benefits counseling; home healthcare; and the Vance North Necessities of Life Program food pantries; among several other critically needed services. Additionally, we are leaders in advocating for policy and legislation that positively impacts the LGBTQ+ and HIV communities and conduct community-based research on issues affecting the communities we serve. For more information on APLA Health visit aplahealth.org