More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 30 and has never lived in a time without AIDS. Despite the steady progress of our collective scientific and community efforts to end the HIV epidemic, the lives of young people continue to be especially vulnerable. To bring attention to this ongoing crisis and to commit ourselves to achieving an AIDS-free generation, today marks the first National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50,000 people in the United States are infected with HIV each year. Of those, one in four is between 13 and 24 years old. Further, CDC reports that nearly 60 percent of new infections in youth occur in African Americans, 20 percent in Latinos and about 20 percent in whites. In 2010, CDC estimates that 87 percent of the 12,000 annual infections in youth occurred among gay and bisexual young men. Nearly half of all new infections among American youth occur in African American males.
In a CDC Vital Signs report released for World AIDS Day 2012, the agency noted that “about 60 percent of youth do not know they are infected and so don’t receive treatment, putting them at risk for sickness and early death. These youth can also unknowingly pass HIV to others.”
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States highlights the need to increase knowledge of HIV status. A large body of research indicates that individuals who are aware of their serostatus are less likely to infect others. As importantly, research published by Johns Hopkins University and other institutions shows that people who enter treatment early and remain in care can have an almost normal lifespan.
At the 20th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2013) in Atlanta last month, Cyprian Weinert and his colleagues presented data showing that in 2011 the proportion of men aware of their infection remained lowest (54 percent) among black men who have sex with men, though prevalence was highest within this population. (HIV Prevalence and Awareness of Infection in 2008 and 2011 among Men Who Have Sex with Men: 20 US Cities. CROI 2013. Atlanta, March 3–6, 2013)
So what are we doing to reverse this situation? Because knowledge of one’s HIV status is so critical to our efforts to end AIDS, FHI 360 is honored to be working with CDC to implement its Testing Makes Us Stronger campaign. The initiative is designed to reach black gay and bisexual men through media and in their everyday lives, nationally and in six cities where these men are heavily affected by HIV (Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, New York, Oakland and Washington, DC).
To learn more about the campaign and CDC’s effort to increase knowledge of HIV status among young black gay men, please visit http://hivtest.cdc.gov/stronger.