Post submitted by Kevin Robert Frost, Chief Executive Officer, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfar aids research logoOne of the most persistently dispiriting aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. is the stubbornly high rate of infection among gay men. Gay men accounted for 63 percent of new HIV infections in 2010, and between 2008 and 2010 the annual rate of new infections among gay men increased by 12 percent. Young men—especially young Black men—are at very high risk of infection: new infections in the 13–24 age bracket increased by a whopping 22 percent between 2008 and 2010.  

So, more than 30 years into this scourge, the HIV/AIDS epidemic among gay men in America is as intractable as ever. 

Conversely, we‘ve seen some extraordinary advances in AIDS research over the last few years, to the extent that we now have the knowledge and the tools we need to genuinely bring the epidemic under control. The twentieth-century prevention methods such as condoms remain as effective as ever. But today they are augmented by pre-exposure prophylaxis, circumcision, and the preventive benefits of putting and keeping people on treatment if they are HIV-positive.    

So what can we do to bend the curve?   

First, as much as we like to think we inhabit a post-AIDS era, we need to acknowledge that we don’t. More than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, there are some 50,000 new infections each year and, while we have powerfully effective treatments, we still don’t have a vaccine or a cure. AIDS remains a serious health issue in the U.S. and the gay community is disproportionately affected by it.

We’ve got to stop pretending that the only issue we should be concerned about is gay marriage.  Of course we want marriage equality, and progress on this issue will help combat anti-gay stigma that exacerbates HIV in our community.  But we also need organizations that serve the LGBT community to mobilize their constituents in the service of a mission that remains far from accomplished. We can fight more than one battle at a time. 

On the policy front, the time is right. The Affordable Care Act gives us an opportunity to cast a much wider net when it comes to HIV testing and getting treatment and care to those who need it. Even though the CDC in 2006 recommended that HIV testing become a routine part of doctor visits, 18% percent of people who are HIV-positive still don’t know they’re infected. We must seize this opportunity to increase testing rates and enable those who are living with HIV to keep the virus in check.

We’ve been extremely successful in preventing the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies. It’s been virtually eliminated in the U.S. and many other countries. With the help of effective harm reduction programs, we’ve managed to substantially reduce HIV incidence among injection drug users. It’s time we got together and took up the challenge of reducing infection rates in the gay community.

The fact is, we won’t end AIDS in America, or anywhere else for that matter, unless we end it for gay people. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic we showed what we can achieve when we rally around a cause. The gay community’s response to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s was a story of collective courage and compassion in the face of epic human suffering. The rising HIV infection rates we see today are the inevitable result of solidarity giving way to complacency.

While amfAR pursues the cure that we ultimately need to end the global AIDS epidemic, there is much we can all be doing to embrace this challenge and make a difference. So on September 27, National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, get an HIV test, talk to friends and loved ones about HIV, volunteer for an AIDS service organization.  Let’s get together and finish what we started.    

Filed under: Health & Aging, HIV & AIDS

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