For years, especially in the decade that followed the discovery of the HIV virus which causes AIDS, the national attention was focused on digesting just what type of a threat HIV/AIDS was to the health of the country. Currently, for those people who work in health care, the number of patients being hospitalized for HIV/AIDS has become commonplace, almost too commonplace. The national media has focused on other health care issues, such as the H1N1 virus, as well as the reform of the healthcare system. Somehow, HIV/AIDS has been pushed to the back burner over the past five years.
However, HIV/AIDS remains a serious threat to well being of millions of Americans.
Indeed, for years it seemed although the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States had “stabilized” at around 40,000 new infections each year. The success was widely reported the press, although public health authorities were concerned that complacency might lead to an increased infection rate.
Now approximately 56,000 Americans become infected each year, although the number of people dying from HIV/AIDS has decreased to approximately 14,000 per year. This means that the prevalence, or the total number of Americans infected with HIV/AIDS is increasing each year. It is a wonderful victory for modern medicine that HIV/AIDS patients are able to live longer and fuller lives, through the use of antiviral medications. Indeed, a number of newer types of medications which can suppress the HIV virus will become available to HIV/AIDS patients over the next decade.
However, while HIV/AIDS has become a chronic disease, it is unlike any other chronic disease that patients and doctors have seen before. Because the HIV virus is able to mutate rapidly, patients often find that their medications must be changed, and in many cases they may experience treatment failure, such that the levels of HIV in their body can no longer be suppressed and they eventually develop AIDS. Indeed, many HIV/AIDS patients may suffer a very difficult decrease in the quality of life as they may be hospitalized multiple times over the course of their illness.
New medications for HIV/AIDS have not come without a cost as many HIV/AIDS suffer severe side effects from their medications, and may develop long term health consequences from their use.
The CDC currently estimates that 1.1 million people live with HIV/AIDS in the United States. By looking at the current infection rate, and death rate from HIV/AIDS, and assuming that these numbers stay constant, there could be an additional 400,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States by 2019. This would be an increase of approximately 36 percent over a decade.
From a purely economic standpoint, the increased number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States means that for probably the next decade the healthcare costs associated with treating HIV/AIDS patients will soar. On a personal level it is disheartening to see a young patient with HIV/AIDS who was noncompliant with their medications, i.e. taking them infrequently, such that they can no longer be offered the medications and are referred to a hospice to die. Undoubtedly, education for HIV/AIDS should include increased prevention efforts, as well as better education for the public such that people understand the importance of taking medications HIV/AIDS medications consistently.
The CDC has launched a public health awareness campaign, entitled Act Against AIDS, to continue the never ending effort to educate the American public about this dangerous disease. This communication program is expected to last five years. The program will also target those at highest risk, such as African Americans, especially women, and African American men who have sex with men.
Although it is crucial to target at risk populations, such as African Americans, I wonder if broader educational measures should be undertaken at the national level, perhaps through mandatory classes in high schools and colleges across the country. Hopefully by targeting the African American community, these prevention efforts will save lives, and won’t single out any one community for stigmatization in the national press.
It is important that all Americans view HIV/AIDS as a national problem, and not just a problem for the black community to deal with.
While five years is a great target, it is likely that HIV/AIDS prevention efforts will be needed in the United States for decades to come. The projected increased spending on HIV/AIDS should motivate the government to increase spending on preventive and educational efforts.
Refocusing National Attention on the HIV Crisis in the United States, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/aaa/refocusing.htm