During the past few years, the world has made remarkable progress toward defeating the HIV epidemic. According to reports from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), new HIV infections have dropped 21 percent since 1997 and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have decreased by 21 percent since 2005. Due to the leadership of advocates, civil society and governments, millions of people with HIV remain vibrant members of their communities because of access to treatment. Recent advancements have shown the importance of reducing transmission through HIV medications, raised the possibility of a vaccine and generated new concepts for a cure. We are now at a turning point where we can envision an end to this deadly virus.
Solutions to this epidemic have not come easily, and our progress is not without setbacks. Just last week, the data safety monitoring board (DSMB) for VOICE (Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic), a trial evaluating approaches for preventing sexual transmission of HIV in women, recommended discontinuing testing of tenofovir vaginal gel because there was no evidence that it prevented infection in the trial population. Only two months earlier, the DSMB recommended suspending testing of oral tenofovir because it was not preventing HIV infection. Nevertheless, continued investment in research is essential to our vision of ending AIDS in the lives of every person, everywhere.
Ending the epidemic will not only require advances in science, but also leadership to create a culture that encourages people to seek HIV testing and care and that provides the safety to do so. Nearly three out of four Americans living with HIV do not have their infection under control, according to a Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in advance of World AIDS Day. The authors say the percentage is low because one in five people with HIV do not realize they are infected and, of those who are aware, only 51 percent receive ongoing medical care and treatment. Moreover, gay and bisexual men were the least likely to know their status despite having the highest rates of infection.
Not surprisingly, while HIV rates in the United States have been steady (about 50,000 new cases a year), new infections jumped 48 percent among young black gay men, who often experience the double pressures of racism and homophobia. To increase HIV testing rates among black gay and bisexual men, CDC has launched a new national awareness campaign, “Testing Makes Us Stronger.” Through an initiative coordinated by FHI 360’s Center on AIDS and Community Health, CDC collaborated with gay and bisexual community leaders, physicians and other experts to develop the campaign. It’s a groundbreaking effort to end the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking testing.
The end of AIDS is now something we can envision. Each of us can play a part in making it happen.