The HIV/AIDS epidemic appears to have been managed relatively well in the United States because it is no longer a regular presence in news headlines or the source of fear that it once was. However, there are still more than 1 million people living with HIV in the United States.
This epidemic is indicative of some of the more stark health inequities in our society, which affect and infect minority populations, people of lower economic status and homosexual men, in disproportionate numbers.
Furthermore, as fear about infection with the virus decreases, rates of HIV transmission are actually beginning to increase, where over the past decade they had shown huge declines.
The CDC has included HIV Prevention as one of its Winnable Battles of Public Health in hopes of re-emphasizing prevention and safe sexual practices. It will better coordinate care now that the disease is no longer an imminent death sentence but a chronic condition, and reduce HIV-related disparities.
In 2010, the White House released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) -- the first of its kind -- as part of the ongoing efforts to win this battle against HIV. The Strategy was a collaborative initiative ordered by President Barack Obama that requires cooperation from federal, state, local and tribal levels as well as medical professionals and education specialists, pharmacies, scientists, social workers, policy-makers and the general public.
The vision it is meant to promote is that “The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio- economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.” (NHAS, 2010)
The first tenet in the NHAS, and one that the CDC has worked especially hard to implement, focuses on preventing transmission and reducing the number of new HIV infections in the United States. Because knowing your HIV status is so important to preventing transmission -- especially because many infected people do not KNOW they carry the virus -- a lot of the prevention efforts have focused on increasing testing.
According to CDC Director, Dr. Tom Friedan, “from 2007-2009, CDC grantees conducted more than 1.4 million HIV tests and identified more than 10,500 persons newly diagnosed with HIV infection.” This allowed more people who tested negative for HIV to stay healthy, and identified more positives (75 percent) who were then able to access comprehensive, coordinated care.
To target prevention in populations of negatives with high-risk factors (men who have sex with men, men and women who trade sex, intravenous drug users and others) a variety of programs work to make testing easily accessible and affordable -- part of standard care procedures, and to integrate education about HIV/AIDS into society using a variety of innovative methods.
Despite efforts on all of these fronts, HIV-related disparities remain. What can you do to help address this problem and win this public health battle?
1. Wear a condom or use other protection against HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. Communicate with your partner and know his/her status. Be honest about your own.
2. Get tested. If you are a man who has sex with men, are part of a high-risk population, or live in an area where many are infected, you should get tested at least once a year. Women should be tested each time they become pregnant in order to prevent transmission from mother to child.
Basically, if you’ve come in contact with another person’s fluids, it won’t hurt to get tested. Knowing your status is crucial to preserving your own health and protecting the health of your community.
3. Write to your local representatives and ask them to take action on social issues that increase the risk of HIV, such as poverty, homelessness, racism, sexism, and discrimination against LGBTQI folks. We all deserve equal opportunities to access health, safety and dignity.
“HIV.” (October, 2011.) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA. http://www.cdc.gov/winnablebattles/HIV/index.html
Friedan, Tom, MD, MPH. (January 2011.) “HIV – Winnable Battles Letter.” Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA.
“National HIV/AIDS Strategy.” (July, 2010.) The White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
Edited by Malu Banuelos