September 27 marked the second-annual National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, aimed at refocusing attention on the epidemic among men who have sex with men (MSM) while remembering those who have died from AIDS-related illness.

While only a small percentage of American men report having sex with other men, MSM account for 64 percent of all HIV-positive men living with the virus in the United States and for more than half of all new HIV infections. In addition, statistics released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that MSM become HIV positive at a rate more than 50 times that of women or straight men.

On National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day—launched in 2008 by the National Association of People with AIDS—Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commended gay and bisexual AIDS activists who have advocated tirelessly for better HIV prevention, treatment and education since the early days of the epidemic.

“By educating themselves about HIV/AIDS and arguing cogently for improvements to the status quo, gay activists gained a seat at the table to design HIV/AIDS studies,” Fauci said. “In so doing, they created a new model for the relationship between patients suffering from serious diseases and scientists developing and testing ways to better detect, treat and prevent these diseases.”

He continued: “Gay AIDS activists also influenced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create new accelerated approval regulations that give patients rapid access to new therapies to treat serious or life-threatening illnesses. In addition, the activists influenced the FDA to give patients access to promising investigational drugs when satisfactory alternatives are unavailable and the patients cannot participate in controlled clinical trials. Individuals with many other serious diseases now benefit from these groundbreaking legacies of the AIDS movement.”