Sensing Light takes place during the first decade of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In 1981, the disease, AIDS, was first recognized as a syndrome of profound immune system damage in previously healthy people. In 1984, the virus, HIV, that causes AIDS was discovered. In 1986, the first medication to treat HIV became available.  What’s happened since then?

  • AIDS has truly been a holocaust. Globally, 36 million people have died of AIDS since the epidemic was first recognized in 1981. This exceeds the 32 million global military deaths that occurred in World Wars I and II combined!
  • 37 million people are now estimated to be living with HIV infection, approximately 1 million are in the United States. 

Good News

  • Modern drug regimens to treat HIV are now safe, well-tolerated, highly effective in suppressing the virus, and simple to take (1–2 pills once a day).
  • Infected people with undetectable virus can expect to lead relatively normal lifespans—comparable to that of diabetics who take medication every day to control their blood sugar.
  • Treatment = prevention. HIV-infected people taking medication who have undetectable virus in their blood are unlikely to transmit the virus to others. Un-infected people who engage in high risk behavior can greatly reduce their risk of becoming HIV-infected by taking medication as well.
  • Globally, 41% of all adults living with HIV were accessing treatment in 2014 compared to 23% in 2010.
  • New HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000. 
  • Among children, new HIV infections have declined by 58% since 2000

Bad News

  • The 2 million new HIV infections estimated to have occurred globally in 2014 exceeded the 1.4 million HIV-infected people who newly initiated medication. The pandemic cannot shrink until more people start medication than are newly infected.
  • Shockingly, the United States is now falling behind Africa in terms of the proportion of its HIV-infected population who are taking medication for HIV!
  • We are still a long, long way from having an effective vaccine to prevent HIV infection or a cure for those who are infected. This means that, for now, infected people need to take medication to suppress HIV for life.

Learn more about what’s happening with HIV/AIDS now at