New figures show need for national HIV/AIDS srategy

November 01, 2015

The revised estimate of 56,300 new HIV infections in 2006 replaces the current, widely reported estimate of 40,000 annual new infections, which has been used for a number of years. The JAMA article does not make clear to what degree the higher estimate is the result of an actual increase in new annual infections or improved reporting technology. Regardless, the estimated number of new HIV infections remains high, and is higher than what America has been led to believe. After 27 years, the United States lacks a coherent strategy for combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, reflected in this disturbing increase in the estimate of HIV incidence.

"The revised CDC figure represents an unacceptable level of new HIV infections for a preventable disease. The revised estimate underlines the need for a National AIDS Strategy with measurable outcomes, reliance on evidence-based programs, and sufficient funding," said Joseph Interrante, CEO, Nashville CARES in Nashville, TN and Chair of AIDS Action Council's Board of Directors. "Stopping the spread of HIV and treating all people living with HIV must be a high priority for our leaders and the American public," Interrante added.

The higher estimate of annual new HIV infections does not mean that HIV prevention does not work. What is failing is national leadership to fund and support sound, scientifically effective HIV prevention programs. Federal funding for domestic HIV prevention has not kept pace with the epidemic, especially given the crisis of HIV/AIDS in communities of color, particularly in African American and Hispanic communities and the high impact of HIV on gay men and men who have sex with men. Adjusted for inflation, federal funding for HIV prevention has decreased since 2001. Federal law blocks federal funding for syringe exchange programs, which the scientific literature has demonstrated clearly as an effective HIV prevention tool. Support for comprehensive sex education that helps keep young people healthy is neglected while the current administration supports pouring millions of dollars into abstinence-only programs that have been proven to be ineffective. "This is not just another set of statistics. There are people behind these numbers. People are becoming infected with a disease that is preventable. We know how to prevent HIV, but we have been fighting this epidemic with one hand tied behind our back, reflecting a disturbing dismissal of HIV prevention as a public health priority," said Ronald Johnson, Deputy Director, AIDS Action Council. "The new, higher estimate is yet one more wake-up call to our national leaders that they need to do more, starting with developing and implementing a real national AIDS strategy," Johnson noted.

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