amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

AIDS at 40: A Reflection

Kevin Robert Frost, Chief Executive Officer, amfAR

Like many in the HIV/AIDS community, when I first joined ACT UP in the early 1990s, I never imagined for a moment that AIDS would become my life’s work. But it has. And it’s been a challenging, frustrating, and at times immensely rewarding journey.

I’m not one to dwell on the past. But as we commemorate the first reports in June 1981 of the disease that would come to be known as AIDS, it’s impossible not to pause for a moment of reflection. 

THE PAST. In some respects, HIV is one of the greatest success stories in the history of medicine. In the course of just 15 years we went from being totally blindsided by an unknown, complex and deadly new retrovirus to developing a raft of drugs that could keep people alive and healthy and give them a normal lifespan. We are proud to have been a leader in the research that made all of that possible. Three people are now known to have been cured of HIV and more will follow.

THE PRESENT. The sad fact is that millions of people still don’t have access to lifesaving treatment. Stigma persists. Inequities in health care delivery continue to burden black and brown communities and other vulnerable populations disproportionately—as they do now with COVID-19. We still have no vaccine and no cure that works for everyone. There is a lot of work yet to be done.

THE FUTURE. When political will and financial resources come together, we can move mountains. Take PEPFAR, for example. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is one of the most effective global health enterprises of all time. I am confident that, with your help, we will develop a cure for HIV for everyone who needs it. If we then combine it with all the other tools we have at our disposal, and add a healthy dose of that will and those resources, we will end the AIDS epidemic.

Much of our success against AIDS is the result of countless acts of quiet—and sometimes not so quiet—heroism. Selfless participation in a clinical trial. Acts of compassion and kindness. Advocating and agitating. And extraordinary personal generosity. Many of amfAR’s donors have been contributing whatever they can, year in, year out, for decades. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them—and you—for your steadfast and continued support. Together, we’ll make AIDS history.