Advocates Push for Greater Awareness of HIV/AIDS

White House, numerous organizations say too many Americans are still becoming infected

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Advocates for HIV/AIDS research and treatment met Wednesday to discuss how to reduce the spread of the disease in the United States, improve access to better care and raise general awareness of the ongoing epidemic.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on HIV in the United States revealing that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, yet only about 28 percent of them have their disease under control.

Efforts to diagnose, treat and reduce transmission of the virus need to be redoubled, the CDC said.

Wednesday's news conference announced the reemergence of National HIV Awareness Month, slated for July 2012.

"We realized that we need to come together and create a focus around the national epidemic," said Dawn Averitt Bridge, founder of the Well Project and the Coalition for National HIV Awareness Month.

The Well Project is a nonprofit group that focuses its attention on women with HIV/AIDS.

July was chosen because the International AIDS Conference will be taking place in the United States for the first time in over 20 years, she said. "Since President Obama lifted the travel ban on people with HIV," she added.

July is also the second anniversary of the release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, Bridge said.

"The coalition is coming together to say: 'it's very important to see what the federal agencies do, but let's talk about how we engage the public and the private sector,'" she said.

"I applaud you and your partners for establishing National HIV Awareness Month," Jeffrey Crowley, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and senior advisor on disability policy in the White House, said during the conference.

Crowley noted that the U.S. government's HIV strategy has four goals: reduce the number of people that become infected with HIV; increase access to care and improve outcomes; reduce HIV health disparities and improve government coordination.

"I was excited to hear that the Well Project was creating this awareness month because the federal government can't do it alone," Crowley said. "This is not a federal strategy, it's a national strategy, so we need all of our stakeholders to come together."

"Private sector help is even more important today as local and state and federal budgets are being cut," Mark Ishaug, president and CEO of AIDS United, said at the news conference. "Cuts in many states are draconian. HIV prevention programs across America have been eliminated; AIDS drug assistant programs have long waiting lists; support services are simply disappearing," he said.

According to the CDC report, in 2010 only 9.6 percent of adult Americans had been tested for HIV in the past year. Testing levels varied by state, ranging from 4.9 percent to 29.8 percent.

Of the more than 900,000 people who know they have HIV, about 77 percent were linked to care and 51 percent were getting continuing treatment.

In addition, 45 percent had prevention counseling and 89 percent were taking antiretroviral medications. Of these, the virus was suppressed in 77 percent, meaning the virus was suppressed in about 28 percent of all Americans with HIV, according to the report.

Speaking at the news conference Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, said that "30 years is enough, and we have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in America."

More information

For more on HIV, visit AIDS.gov.

SOURCES: Nov. 30, 2011, teleconference with: Dawn Averitt Bridge, founder, Coalition for National HIV Awareness Month; Jeffrey Crowley, director, Office of National AIDS Policy and senior advisor on disability policy, the White House; Phill Wilson, founder and CEO, Black AIDS Institute; Mark Ishaug, president and CEO, AIDS United; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov. 29, 2011 report, Vital Signs: HIV Prevention Through Care and Treatment -- United States

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