Shifts in how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is spending HIV prevention funds and widespread misconceptions that antiretroviral drugs eliminate the risk of dying from AIDS could lead to rising HIV incidence rates in the country, the Los Angeles Times reports. The CDC in May began awarding federal HIV prevention grants to groups focusing on identifying those who are unaware they're infected with the virus and on programs urging HIV-positive people to not expose others to the virus. The CDC says this new "prevention for positives" focus was needed because traditional HIV prevention outreach has failed to reduce the 40,000 new HIV infections occurring each year in the United States.
But the strategy shift makes it more difficult to reach HIV-negative young women and gay men at risk for HIV infection with prevention messages, some AIDS experts say. HIV infection rates are rising among gay men, particularly young gay men, health officials say, because of "a perception that HIV or AIDS is no longer a big threat, so why bother" to use condoms, Ron Valdiserri, head of HIV programs for the CDC, told the Times. The success of antiretroviral therapy in reducing the number of AIDS deaths, which were centered heavily among gay men in the 1980s and early 1990s, also has lead gay men to be more complacent, AIDS experts say. Traditional HIV prevention programs urging condom use and other risk-reduction behaviors among gay men are still widely needed, some activists and health officials say, but have been de-emphasized under the CDC's new prevention-for-positives focus.
HIV also has "set deep roots in minority communities" where the disease still is not openly addressed and is rapidly spreading, and some AIDS activists and health officials worry that pulling back on funding for culturally tailored HIV prevention programs in these communities could worsen the problem. African-Americans currently account for 50% of all the nation's AIDS cases, up from 25% in 1985; Latinos account for 19% of the country's AIDS cases.