By: Catherine Saar
December has always been a time for me to reflect upon and feel gratitude for what has been achieved and experienced, as well as a time to pause and consider what is yet to come and the work it may take to get there. Likewise, World AIDS Day is commemorated in December and reminds us to reflect on the millions of lives lost to AIDS, to be grateful for the progress we have made treating this disease since 1981, and at the same time, reminds us that the work required to overcome the AIDS epidemic is far from over.
According to the HIV.gov website, there is a lack of awareness that HIV remains a significant public health threat with very high ongoing costs. In fact:
- More than 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV and many more are at risk of HIV infection.
- An estimated 38,000 Americans are being newly diagnosed each year. Without intervention, nearly 400,000 more Americans will be newly diagnosed over 10 years despite the availability of tools to prevent transmissions.
- The U.S. government spends $20 billion in annual direct health expenditures for HIV prevention and care.
While the AIDS epidemic may not be as obvious to as many of us as it was in the 1980’s and 1990’s, there is a real risk of an HIV resurgence due to drug use; HIV-related stigma; homophobia and transphobia; and a lack of access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.
A recent analysis from CDC shows that about 80 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2016 were transmitted from about 40 percent of people with HIV who either did not know they had HIV, or who had been diagnosed but were not receiving HIV care. This data underscores the impact of undiagnosed and untreated HIV in the nation and also the critical need to expand HIV testing and treatment in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the United States by at least 90% by 2030 with the goal of decreasing the number of new HIV infections to fewer than 3,000 per year. Reducing new infections to this level would essentially mean that HIV transmissions would be rare and meet the definition of ending the epidemic.
The theme for the December 2021 World AIDS Day observance is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice” (“El tema de este año para WAD se confirma como: Poner fin a la epidemia de VIH: acceso equitativo, la voz de todos”). For a list of resources, visit https://www.hiv.gov/events/awareness-days/world-aids-day and follow the HIV.gov blog for updates on federal activities honoring this observance.