The First Confirmed Case of Death from AIDS

The First Confirmed Case of Death from AIDS


The HIV pandemic continues to be one of the most dangerous diseases in the United States. By the end of the twentieth century, approximately one million Americans were living with the virus and a large number of them did not know they had it. In spite of the tremendous reductions in deaths, the pandemic continues to ravage with more than forty thousand new cases of infections occurring each year. This phenomenon, combined with the increased uptake of antiretroviral drugs, has reduced the prevalence of the disease and people with the virus are now able to live healthier lives than before. Before this, HIV/AIDS had instilled fear among Americans due to its ability to kill in a short period and lack of cure. Accordingly, it becomes important to study the history of the disease and its first reported death. This exposition will devote itself to this study as well as examine the social and political effects of the disease in the US.

History of the Disease

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a rapid rise in gay communities across the country. San Francisco had the largest population in the country. In 1975, Bobbi Campbell, a nurse, got a job in San Francisco and immediately immersed himself into the lives of the gay communities. His specific focus was on the health of these communities. In 1981, just four months after he started his work, he noticed a type of syndrome of immune deficiency among young gay men. His colleague, Marcus Conant, a dermatologist diagnosed him with Kaposi Sarcoma. Campbell referred to this disease as gay cancer (Wright 9). He started writing numerous articles on it while urging gay men who had related lesions to visit hospitals for treatment. Campbell understood that the disease was not a type of gay cancer as he had, undoubtedly, come across variations of the condition in his career as a nurse (Wright 10). In 1969, an African-American young male named Robert Rayford had died of a disease whose symptoms were consistent with that of HIV/AIDS. It was not until 1989 that an analysis of sample tissues confirmed that he had died of the virus. The name Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was developed in August the following year because patients were seen to lack immunity and succumbed to the slightest of infections.

At the same time, renowned musician Michael Callen got diagnosed with the syndrome. The musician started to read numerous articles to get a sense of his situation and found one article by Joseph Sonnabend to be convincing.  Sonnabend believed that the disease was a result of promiscuity, a theory had been earlier developed by other epidemiologists (Levy, Autran, Coutinho and Phair 15).


In 1981, doctors recorded cases of an uncommon lung infection referred to as Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP) among five healthy gay men in California. Concurrently, cases of Kaposi Sarcoma were becoming prevalent among gay populations in California and New York. In December of the same year, the first incidence of PCP in people who used drug injections was reported. By the end of the month, there were more than two hundred and seventy recorded cases of adverse lack of immunity among gay men and one hundred and twenty-one had succumbed (Hammet and Bronson 5).

In 1982, the syndrome was reported among Hemophiliacs in Haiti, which led people to believe that the disease came from the region. In September the same year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) developed the term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome to describe this disease, categorically stating that it is “a disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known cause for diminished resistance to that disease.” The cases of the syndrome were increasing even in Europe and Africa (De Cock, Jaff and Curan 9). In Uganda, clinicians reported a disease that was causing many people to waste and was given the name “slim”. At around the same time, new AIDS-related organizations began to be formed such as the Terrence Higgins Trust in the United Kingdom and San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF) (Hammet and Bronson 11).

In 1983, the first case of AIDS among heterosexual women was reported, eliminating the overarching assumption that it was only contracted by homosexual individuals. In May, leading researchers working at the Pasteur Institute in France discovered a new virus that could presumptively be a cause of AIDS. The virus was called Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus (LAV). In June, AIDS was reported among children, leading to assumptions that it could be transmitted through physical contact with an infected individual. This assumption was later neglected in favor of another that these children could have gotten the disease from their mothers during birth (De Cock, Jaff and Curan 15). By September, CDC compiled comprehensive research that ruled out transmission by physical contact and including other media such as water or air. They also published a list of recommendations that health practitioners should take to prevent further transmission of the disease (CDC 10). In November of the same year, the World Health Organization convened a meeting to discuss the AIDS situation in the globe and commenced international surveillance.

In 1984, the National Cancer Institute reported they had discovered the cause of the syndrome, the retrovirus HTLV III, which was remarkably identical to the LAV retrovirus that had been discovered by the Pasteur Institute. Efforts to develop a vaccine commenced immediately with numerous blood tests being undertaken to further understand the disease (Esparza 6). CDC consequently warned people to avoid sharing need needles and injectable drugs. As a precaution also, numerous sex clubs and bathhouses were closed to curb promiscuity and debauchery that was taking place on these premises (Esparza 8).

HIV/AIDS Mortality in the 1980s

AIDS mortality rates have fluctuated severally depending on the treatment measures and prevalence. The first death from HIV/AIDS was witnessed in a North American teenager named Robert Rayford in 1969. The cause of death was not confirmed until 1989 when tissue samples were examined and confirmed to contain HIV. In 1985, Hollywood star Rock Hudson became the first public figure to succumb to the disease. In 1991, popular British singer Freddie Mercury died of the disease (Esparza 2).

The number of deaths was, however, significantly high around the globe. By the end of 1983, for instance, the number of AIDS-related deaths in the US were recorded as 1292 while 3, 064 people had been infected. By 1984, the cases had increased to 7, 699, while the deaths were recorded at 3, 665 in the US and 762 in Europe. In December 1985, every nation in the globe had reported at least one AIDS-related death with more than 20,303 cases recorded in total (CDC 7).

Social and Political Impacts of the Disease

AIDS continues to be a significant social, political, and economic issue. The premature death of prospectively productive youths has had an ineluctable effect on society. Indeed, the disease has affected numerous households and families. Those who become ill are not able to work, creating a kind of dependency that massively affects the family’s income. In rural communities, farm output falls by a huge ratio due to low output and increase dependency. Consequently, families that are affected by HIV/AIDS are prone to discrimination that is often manifested by reduced usage of public resources (Tomso 3).

Secondly, the gender dynamics of HIV/AIDS have become far-reaching largely because of women’s inability to dictate sexual matters in most communities. Women are often the ones who take care of HIV patients and are also saddled with the burden of taking care of the children and other dependent people (Tomso 16). This reality has become a significant encumbrance to their economic life. These women face serious financial risks when the household head dies as most are left to live in destitution. Also, some are exposed to sexual exploitation when they try to come up with other sources of income. Affording good healthcare becomes an issue, and mother-child HIV transmission becomes a major concern.

In addition, AIDS has affected education which is, indubitably, the building block of a robust society. Indeed, the epidemic is reducing the supply of educators, which means that the quality of education is at risk. The amount of money budgeted for education has been reduced or redirected towards taking care of AIDS patients. Children who would otherwise be in school are forced to take care of parents, as well as their siblings when orphaned (Angleton, Yankah and Crewe 23). As teachers become sick, their overall output deteriorates, putting students at risk of receiving low-grade education. In some countries, the number of HIV positive teachers is remarkably high, and their overall performance is becoming a challenge in those nations.

The pandemic has also placed huge stress on health services. Since 1981, more than twenty million people have fallen sick, and the demand for health services has skyrocketed. This prevalence has put huge stress on public healthcare especially on finances. In 1997, for instance, the expenditure on AIDS was more than two percent of the total GDP in seven of the sixteen African nations that were affected by HIV/AIDS the most. These nations only allocated three to five percent of their GDP to the public health sector showing that AIDS took a significant part of the amount (Tomso 21). This financial pressure has been exacerbated by the increasing effect on health workers.

HIV/AIDS has also exposed economic and social fault lines in society. These are highly politicized issues in society that have pitted certain demographic groups against others. Certainly, AIDS has disproportionately affected certain populations than others leaving people to understand the existing inequalities in society. African nations have become the most affected often due to risky sexual behaviors and poverty (Sangaramoorthy 13). Regrettably, governments from wealthy nations have shown little or no effort to mitigate this disease in these nations which have made an important political issue.

Importance of the Topic

Studying the history of AIDS is important not only in understanding its roots but also in assessing the setbacks. The history gives scientists a clear development of the disease as well as some major battles that have been won through the way. In addition, this record is instrumental in policy formulation. Certain issues arise along the way, such as increasing prevalence among certain demographics and HIV criminalization. HIV criminalization is, for instance, the penalization of knowingly transmitting HIV/AIDS without prior disclosure to a person. Understanding how the disease has been spread previously and how likely people can transmit the disease through certain acts is important.

Importantly, too, understanding the social and political impacts of the disease is critical. The disease has affected the society by a huge extent. The extent of the impacts needs to be evaluated from a scholarly perspective and the results availed to the government to aid in policy formulation. These studies are also accompanied by recommendations, which, if applied, may help in reducing the effects of the disease. Also, evaluating the political impacts may help divulge the existing problems in the society. As mentioned, HIV/AIDS has exposed the existing inequalities in society. It has also bared the reluctance of governments and international bodies to address the ailment in some regions. This disparity may be a great starting point for people and civil societies that push for egalitarianism. It may also form the foundation of future studies on HIV/AIDS.


HIV/AIDS has wreaked havoc in the globe since its original occurrence. Doctors and scientists were faced with a herculean task of finding a cure for the disease and at the same time mitigate its transmission. Even though a vaccine has not been found yet, tremendous developments have been made, and the effects of the disease have been contained with antiretroviral drugs. Consequently, HIV/AIDS mortality rates have declined significantly. With many scientists working on a vaccine, the disease may soon be obliterated.

Works Cited

Aggleton, Peter, Ekua Yankah, and Mary Crewe. “Education and HIV/AIDS—30 Years On.” AIDS Education and Prevention, vol. 23, no. 6, 2011, pp. 1-107.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “HIV Surveillance– The United States, 1981-2008.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 60, no. 21, 2011, pp. 689.

Esparza, José. “A Brief History of the Global Effort to Develop a Preventive HIV Vaccine.” Vaccine, vol. 31, no. 35, 2013, pp. 1-102.

De Cock, Kevin M., Harold W. Jaffe, and James W. Curran. “The Evolving Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS.” Aids, vol. 26, no. 10, 2012, pp. 1-54.

Levy, Jay A., et al. “25 Years of AIDS: Recording Progress and Future Challenges.” 2012, pp.  1-24.

Sangaramoorthy, Thurka. Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention. Rutgers University Press, 2014.

Tomso, Gregory. “The Humanities and HIV/AIDS: Where Do We Go From Here?” PMLA, vol. 125, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1-38.

Wright, Joe. “Only Your Calamity: The Beginnings of Activism By and for People with AIDS.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 103, no. 10, 2013, pp. 1788-1798.


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