More than 1 million people live with it in the U.S., and one in five don’t know they have it. While the annual numbers of new HIV infections have remained stable, more than 56,000 Americans are newly infected with the virus each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In a recent survey, more than 60 percent of Americans said advancements in HIV/AIDS have received too little coverage. I spoke with an infectious disease doctor and expert to find out where we stand in combating HIV/AIDS. Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
What is the state of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. today?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: The state of HIV/AIDS in the United States is clearly worse than I believe most people perceive, because we’ve reached somewhat of a plateau — but at an unacceptable level — and there has been a degree of complacency about that.
I believe the perception of HIV/AIDS in the general population, is [that people don’t] perceive it as serious a situation as it is. The people who are involved with it every day, like I and my colleagues are, we see that right up front, just looking us square in the face. But for the ordinary person who has so many other things on their mind, they’re really not thinking about this as a big problem in the United States, when in fact it still is.
What is being done in terms of funding and outreach for HIV/AIDS?
There’s always a need for robust funding for HIV/AIDS research, but there have been enough major advances, particularly in the arena of therapy, where we really need to implement the things that we have done, as much as, or more than, getting new things.
This is really a low-tech public health/sociological issue, where you’ve got to get into the population, particularly people at risk, and you need to seek them out in a voluntary way, get them tested and get them into care. Because it’s very clear that when you get them into care and you treat them, it is good for the person, it brings down the viral load in their blood, which makes it less likely that they will infect someone else. And you also can get them into a degree of counseling, where they will know their risks: so if they’re tested as negative, you can counsel them on how to stay negative. If they’re tested as positive, then you get them into therapy and get them into a good care system, as well as instruct them about how to avoid infecting others.
So we really need to implement, in a much, much better way than we are, the prevention of HIV, as well as the getting into therapy those who need to be in therapy.
Are we paying enough attention to HIV/AIDS in the U.S.?
I don’t think it’s a question of not paying enough attention, I think it’s a question of what happens when something has been around for a long time and you’ve had a number of successes, particularly in the realm of therapy, where the fear of it is lessened.
When people came in [20 years ago], it was virtually a death sentence, and so many people were dying, so many people were in hospices that there was a great deal of fear and concern about getting infected. Now that we have good drugs, even though the infections are still occurring – 56,000 new infections a year in the U.S. – there is a degree of complacency about that that is unfortunate and really dangerous.
Editor’s Note: Check back later this week for a follow-up post on recent findings and advancements in HIV/AIDS research.