Happy National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, #StigmaWarriors! Today our blog post will be about the history of HIV and HIV-related stigma and discrimination in children and young adults. As you’ll see, the United States has come a long way from the early days of the HIV epidemic, especially when it comes to the care and treatment of children and young adults who are living with HIV. So let’s get started with our history lesson!
The first known case of AIDS in children/young adults in the United States wasn’t discovered to be AIDS until 1987. Robert Rayford, a sixteen year old from St. Louis, Missouri, died of a mysterious illness in 1969 , several months after checking himself into the hospital for treatment. When doctors performed an autopsy, they found several abnormalities, and were so baffled by Robert’s illness that they preserved samples of his tissue. In 1987, several years after the HIV epidemic was first identified in the United States, those same doctors tested Robert’s tissue samples, and they came back positive for HIV.
On December 10th, the CDC reported a case of unexplained immunodeficiency  (later determined to be HIV) in an infant who had received a blood transfusion. Over the next several weeks, twenty-two more cases of infants  who were either living with or had died from unexplained immunodeficiency were reported. Most of the children were diagnosed with immunodeficiency after a blood transfusion or it was found that the condition was transmitted to them through their mother.
Ryan White , a hemophiliac who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion, was kicked out of Western Middle School in Kokomo, Indiana, after it was disclosed to school officials that he was living with HIV. After a drawn out court battle, White was allowed to return to school, but his parents decided to withdraw him from Western and enrolled him in Hamilton Heights High School in Cicero, Indiana, where school officials and students welcomed him with open arms after being educated about HIV. This was the first nationally known case of the effects of HIV stigma.
In December, the US Public Health Service released the first recommendations for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission .
A federal judge ordered the DeSoto County School Board in Arcadia, Florida, to allow the three HIV-positive Ray brothers (Ricky, Robert, and Randy) to attend school after they were kicked out because the parents of other children did not want children living with HIV to attend the school . The brothers were hemophiliacs and most likely contracted HIV via blood transfusions. After the judge’s decision was handed down, other parents began withdrawing their children from school, and on August 28th the Ray’s home was burned down, prompting them to flee Arcadia .
Elizabeth Glaser, wife of Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser and a mother living with HIV, founded the Pediatric AIDS Foundation (now the Elizabeth Glaser PediatricAIDS Foundation)  after their daughter Ariel died of AIDS. At this time there were no approved antiretroviral drugs for children living with HIV, and the Glasers' son Jake was dying of AIDS. Through lobbying, the EGPAF was able to get the FDA to approve antiretroviral treatments for children.
Ryan White spoke before the President’s Commission about the HIV Epidemic about the HIV-related stigma he faced after his diagnosis , and emphasized how HIV education helped him be more accepted at his new school in Cicero. As a result, schools across the nation implemented education programs about HIV in health classes.
HIV activist Ryan White died in April at the age of eighteen. Four months later, President George H. W. Bush signed the Ryan White CARE Act  into law, which provides government funding for HIV/AIDS research. It has been reauthorized four times, most recently in 2009.
Five years after Ricky Ray’s death, Congress enacted the Ricky Ray Hemophilia Relief Fund Act , which authorizes payment to hemophiliacs and other people living with blood clotting disorders who were infected with HIV via contaminated blood transfusions between 1982 and 1987.
Twenty years after HIV was confirmed in children, approximately thirteen million children and young people were living with HIV, mostly in Africa .
The first National Women’s and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was commemorated on March 6th.
In March, doctors at the CDC confirmed that a toddler in Mississippi  who had been diagnosed with HIV at birth had been “functionally cured” of HIV, leading to hope for a cure in children who were transmitted HIV in utero. One year later, the toddler was still free of HIV.
The first National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was commemorated on April 10th.
In March, an infant in California was confirmed to be“functionally cured” of HIV  after receiving the same treatment as the Mississippi toddler who had been “functionally cured” of HIV one year earlier. The CDC is currently trying to work out clinical trials in order to find a cure for children prenatally exposed to HIV.
What an amazing timeline! It truly shows how the treatment of people living with HIV, especially children and young adults, has changed. Twenty years ago there were no treatments for children living with HIV, and now there are two toddlers who have been functionally cured of it! Isn’t modern medicine amazing? And now, children living with HIV don’t have to worry about being kicked out of school if their condition is diagnosed. Ryan White and the Ray brothers’ legacy is proof of that.
Who knows what the future holds? What we know it holds is a lot of hope for those living with HIV to potentially find preventative vaccines or even cures. It also holds hope for lives free of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
Happy National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day!