Twenty-five years ago, the first newspaper headlines documented a medical mystery: 41 cases of a rare cancer seen only in gay men. Who could have known that this was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic? Now, says CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin, AIDS and the virus that causes it, HIV, are a global scourge.
On Friday, the United Nations concluded its High-Level Meeting on AIDS, a three-day gathering designed to hammer out better strategies for slowing a seemingly never-ending tide of infections — now numbering 40 million worldwide.
A full quarter-century after the first cases were discovered, meetings about AIDS ignite protest and controversy. Few diseases, if any, remain so emotionally and politically charged.
In the United States, doctors like Jay Levy, who has followed the spread of AIDS from the beginning, fear that Americans, especially young Americans, just don't care.
"What is wrong is that out best vaccine, which is education, is not working," he says.
The latest statistics show that in the United States, there are 40,000 new HIV infections every year. Incredibly, that number has not changed in a decade.
Powerful drugs have enabled people to live longer. But there are still about 15,000 AIDS deaths every year.
The fastest-growing group getting infected? Heterosexual women like Dawn Averitt Bridge, who now make up 27 percent of new cases.
"The idea that there aren't positive women out there .... there are probably 300,000 to 400,000 women in this country living with the disease," says Averitt Bridge, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1988.
Today, Averitt Bridge runs the Well Project, a group for HIV-positive women. She's managed to live a full, healthy life, even raising two daughters. But she worries that the American infection rate will remain high.
"We are afraid to talk about HIV," she says. "We're afraid that somehow we're going to own HIV if we talk about it. It's the elephant in the room in so many settings — and unfortunately we have a long, long way to go."
That can be hard to believe after 25 years and a disease that has claimed 25 million lives.
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