The AIDS Epidemic

Richard Brown is dying of AIDS. Like many gay men living in metropolitan areas during the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s, he has already lost many friends to the virus and has seen up close the ravages of the disease on a once healthy body.


AIDS begins as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. It is spread by contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or HIV medicine to prevent or treat HIV), or through sharing injection drug equipment. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged because of the virus. For more information, please refer to

Please read below for some important events in the timeline of the AIDS epidemic in NYC (all information taken from the timeline created by the NYC AIDS Memorial):

In December 1980, a Brooklyn schoolteacher dies of AIDS in New York City. He is the 4th U.S. citizen known to die from the illness.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the first community-based AIDS service provider in the United States, is founded in New York City.

15,527 cases of AIDS and 12,529 deaths reported in the U.S. to date. AIDS has now been reported in 51 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.

AIDS activist Larry Kramer founds the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in New York City. Kramer’s goal is to create a political directaction group that will force governments, elected officials, public health agencies, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and religious institutions to act to protect those at risk of HIV, and those who are sick with AIDS. TIME magazine calls ACT UP “the most effective health activist [group] in history” for “pressuring drug companies, government agencies and other powers that stood in their way to find better treatments for people with AIDS—and, in the process, improving the way drugs are tested and approved in the U.S.”

160,969 cases of AIDS and 120,453 deaths reported in the U.S. To date, nearly twice as many Americans have died of AIDS as died in the Vietnam War.

AIDS becomes the number-one cause of death for U.S. men ages 25 to 44.

AIDS deaths in the U.S. reach an all-time high. AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for all Americans ages 25 to 44.

President Bill Clinton calls for the development of an AIDS vaccine by 2007.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announces that HIV/AIDS has become the fourth largest cause of death worldwide and the number one cause of death in Africa. The WHO estimates that 33 million people are living with HIV worldwide and 14 million people have died of AIDS.