In the late 1970s, a mystery illness appeared in a few men. Their body weight dropped precipitously. Their immune systems were destroyed. They had no defenses against diseases that the body usually fights off with ease -- a skin cancer known as Kaposi's sarcoma, candida infections and an unusual strain of pneumonia [souce: Avert]. Eventually scientists would give the disease the name Acquired Immune Deficit Syndrome, or AIDS.
After its initial appearance, several years passed before medical professionals recognized that a virus -- the Human Immunodeficiency Virus -- caused the disease or that the disease could be spread through sexual contact, intravenous drug use and blood donations. It was 1985 before a U.S. president mentioned the disease in public.
In the first years of the epidemic, fear and misinformation reigned. Patients faced prejudice and hysteria, even violence. Early treatments involved such intensive drug regimens with such toxic prescriptions that patients who didn't die of the disease itself sometimes died of liver failure. One thing seemed clear: There was no cure. Those diagnosed with AIDS would have it for the rest of their lives, and their lives would be dramatically abbreviated.
Twenty years after the first cases appeared, approximately 30 million people were living with HIV/AIDS and more than 6 million AIDS-related deaths had been reported around the world [source: Aegis]. As of the end of 2007, the number of confirmed cases had risen to 33 million [source: Avert]. Though our information and our treatment options have improved dramatically, they still haven't been enough to halt the spread of AIDS, which remains a global crisis.
Some of the people fighting hardest to eradicate this terrifying epidemic are at AIDS organizations. The first AIDS organizations appeared in 1982, mere months after the disease received its name from the Centers for Disease Control [source: Avert].
Read on to learn about the work of AIDS organizations in the areas of education, testing and support.