World AIDS Day 2008: Still a Ticking Time Bomb

By Terry Keleher Dec 01, 2008

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the HIV rate in many countries continues to soar. According to Reuters, the HIV rate among China’s estimated 200 million migrant workers is a “ticking time bomb.” A few sobering statistics on the international front: • Around 95 percent of people with HIV/AIDS live in developing nations. • More people than ever before are living with HIV worldwide and new infections continue. According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.2 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. • During 2007 some 2.5 million people became newly infected with the virus. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35. In an op-ed released over the weekend, retired Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu urged the U.S. to contribute more to fight AIDS globally, especially since key Democratic leaders are supporting a contribution to the fund for 2009 that is only half of what the fund requested. According to Tutu, “the idea that, say, $3 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is at least as crucial to security as $3 billion for a pair of fighter jets has not really sunk in for most policymakers, including, I dare say, in America.” On the domestic front, the National Black Leadership Commission provides a snapshot of the problem: * In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report estimating 56,300 new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2006 – much higher than the previous annual estimates of 40,000 new infections. • Black Americans were seven times more likely than whites to become newly infected with HIV, according to the report, and “blacks are more heavily and disproportionately affected by HIV than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S.” Blacks are one in eight Americans, but approximately half the people living with HIV in the U.S., according to the CDC. • AIDS remains the leading cause of death among black women between 25-34 years and the second leading cause of death in black men between 35-44 years. Black women in the U.S. were 23 times more likely than white women to be diagnosed with AIDS in 2005, according to the CDC. NBLCA President/CEO C. Virginia Fields said: “The stunning new data underscore, in the most dramatic terms possible, the inexorable movement of the HIV/AIDS epidemic into black and other minority communities and the failure of government at all levels to respond to that change.” Fields said. “It is nothing short of outrageous that three decades into this epidemic so little has been done to effectively target educational, health care and prevention resources to a community suffering such a disproportionate share of the pain.” NLBCA has led efforts around the nation to focus attention on HIV/AIDS and to develop the National HIV/AIDS Elimination Act, which will formally be introduced to the 2009 Congress. Among other measures, the Act calls for the President and Congress to declare the HIV/AIDS crisis in the African-American community a “public health emergency” and formulate a plan of action to allocate resources to address the emergency. This past week, leaders of national AIDS organizations revealed their recommendations for President-elect Barack Obama’s administration: The AIDS in American plan, according to Carl Schmidt, director of federal affairs for the AIDS Institute, a national public policy organization, calls for a national AIDS strategy that is “designed to lower HIV incidence, increase access to HIV care, and reduce racial disparities in the epidemic and integrate HIV with STD, viral hepatitis and TB programs at the local level.” The plan includes proposal such as: • increasing funding for the Ryan White Act, which provides medical care, antiretroviral treatments and counseling to people with HIV who would not otherwise have access to care. It also supports HIV testing to prevent the disease. • directing the Centers for Disease Control to develop prevention programs that target the communities and populations most at risk; • implementing a universal health care reform initiative and supporting new research; • eliminating federal policies that discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS; and • calling for the secretary of Health & Human Services to “rapidly develop” regulations that implement the change in a law that allows people who are HIV positive to enter the United States as visitors or immigrants.