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Twentieth World AIDS Day

On December first, the world observed World AIDS Day; a day dedicated to raising the awareness of the AIDS pandemic, caused by the spread of the HIV Virus.

In 1988, the year that AIDS Day was first observed, there were over 80,000 reported cases of AIDS in the U.S., where the disease was first identified, and 135 other countries reported their own cases. The infection was spreading all over the world, but the medical community had few weapons to combat it. Only one medication was available, and it was only effective for a short while. In 1988, the life expectancy of most patients with AIDS was measured in months.

Twenty years later, much has changed. No other disease has prompted a comparable mobilization of political, financial and human resources. An unprecedented research effort has led to well over 20 anti-HIV drugs.

Scientifically proven approaches to prevention, testing, and screening have been deployed all over the world. And innovative programs have reached millions of people worldwide, delivering medication, care, and education on a scale unimaginable even a few years ago.

One such program is the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. In 2003, when the program was introduced by President George W. Bush, it was estimated that only about 50,000 people were receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, home to 67 percent of all people living with HIV. With PEPFAR, treatment has increased forty-fold.

It is the largest international health initiative dedicated to a single disease, says President Bush:

"When we launched PEPFAR, our goal was to support treatment for 2 million people in 5 years. Today, I'm pleased to announce that we have exceeded that goal -- early."

But there is still a long way to go. Last year, 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 2 million people died of the disease. Much remains to be done. Developing HIV medications and delivering them to the people who need them will require the collaboration and good will of the scientific community and the public and private sectors for many years to come.