Activists and AIDS organizations are reacting with alarm to the news announced this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that more than 1 million Americans are believed to be living with HIV disease, with some saying the Bush administration must step up its efforts to contain the disease.
The National Association of People With AIDS says policy makers must respond more effectively and aggressively to fight the spread of the virus in the United States. "The news that well over 1 million Americans are currently living with HIV/AIDS tells us that this epidemic is bigger and more serious than our national policy makers have been treating it," says Terje Anderson, NAPWA executive director. "One million people are more than enough, and our country has got to respond."
Although part of the reason for the rising number of HIV-positive people is due to the success of antiretroviral drugs in preventing disease progression and death, Anderson says much more work needs to be done to lower the number of new HIV infections occurring each year. The CDC estimates that 40,000 Americans are infected with HIV annually. "We continue to see unacceptably high rates of new infections each year," particularly among African-Americans, Anderson says.
AIDS Project Los Angeles calls the CDC's HIV estimates "a heartbreaking milestone" and notes that gay men--who account for about 45% of all U.S. HIV cases--remain particularly vulnerable to the disease. Minority groups also are disproportionately affected by HIV, according to APLA. "This data points out an extraordinary lack of access to information and care for too many people in our most vulnerable communities," says APLA executive director Craig E. Thompson. "Sound the alarms, because HIV is marking gay, black, and Latino lives in numbers we can't ignore."
Julie Davids, executive director of the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, blames the record-high number of HIV-positive Americans in part on underfunding of HIV prevention and care efforts. "Frankly, we are not shocked that the potent mix of a decade of insufficient funding for science-based HIV prevention and an overdose of ideologically driven policy has pushed us over the million mark," she says. Davids and other AIDS activists note that President Bush's proposed fiscal year 2006 budget calls for a $4 million reduction in HIV prevention funding and no new funds for HIV care and treatment services except for a $10 million increase in AIDS Drug Assistance Program funding.
"The new data give a clearer picture of the urgency to expand science-based HIV prevention approaches," said Jim Pickett of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. "It is readily apparent that while we have the tools to end AIDS, we are absolutely failing as a country to bring them to scale."