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President Obama Speaks on 35th Anniversary of HIV

President Obama speaking
NDU Audio Visual/Flickr

“While there is more work to do … I’m confident that if we build upon the steps we’ve taken, we can finish the job.”

U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement commemorating the first documented cases of HIV/AIDS 35 years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control released the case study on June 5, 1981. In that report, doctors and researchers investigated the "unusual" deaths of five gay men from a form of pneumonia only found in patients with severely weakened immune systems.

The report was also the first to suggest some "association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease" and an illness that would later be referred to as the "gay cancer."

In his statement, Obama specifically addressed the stigma and shame surrounding the disease during its early years and the many who suffered and died because of lack of action.

"We've learned that stigma and silence don't just fuel ignorance," he said. "They foster transmission and give life to a plague. We've seen that testing, treatment, education, and acceptance can not only save and extend lives, but fight the discrimination that halted progress for too long."

The president congratulated new research funding and even highlighted the development of PrEP as a breakthrough in HIV prevention.

While Obama still hopes for an "AIDS-free generation" within this century, the disease still takes a heavy toll on American society. More than 1.2 million people live with the virus in the country, with one in eight unaware that they are positive. Infection rates among gay and bisexual men vary greatly by geography, with contraction rates soaring in metropolitan areas across the South.

Despite the challenge, the president assured Americans about the power of remembering how far communities have come in fighting the disease.

"Let's call the names," he said. "Let's remember those we lost too soon. And let's rededicate ourselves to ending this epidemic once and for all."

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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