In the short time since the first cases of the AIDS epidemic were reported in 1981, scientists have identified the viral cause of the illness, the basic modes of transmission, accurate tests for the presence of infection, and effective drugs that slow or halt the progression of the disease. During that same period, governments and grassroots organizations around the world were spurred into action to meet the growing need for AIDS education, counseling, patientsí rights, and clinical research.
Despite these advances, critics observe that many governments were slow to respond to the crisis. For example, United States president Ronald Reagan did not discuss AIDS in public until 1987, more than six years after the start of the AIDS epidemic. By that time, 41,000 Americans had already died from the disease. AIDS advocates believe that the lack of federal support for AIDS research in these early years delayed the development of an effective vaccine or a cure for the disease.