Newly released figures concerning the number of HIV infections in the U.S. has brought outrage and a flood of reaction. However, the findings do not surprise the HIV/AIDS advocate community.
According to the Aug. 3 release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, HIV infection in the U.S. has been significantly underreported for perhaps more than a decade.
The study estimated 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in 2006, a 40 percent increase when compared to estimates of 40,000 infections — the number that has been in use for more than a decade and is the basis for program funding.
Other startling findings cite the infection rate among African-Americans to be seven times that of whites, and three times as high as Hispanics; gay and bisexual men of all races account for 53 percent of all new cases.
Study data is attributed to better surveillance techniques that for the first time, measure incidence to include both individuals who are HIV positive, and those who have AIDS.
"This report only confirms what communities of color have already known for a long time," said Marilyn Merida, program director of Florida Family AIDS Network of Tampa Bay. Outreach messages are key, she said, but, "too often prevention messages are culturally irrelevant and do not speak to folk who need to be targeted for early intervention, testing and treatment."
And the numbers are likely higher, said Dorothy Keville of Boston, founder and former co-chair of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program Working Group. "Because of their HIV reporting systems, some states -- California and Massachusetts, for example --were not even included, so I believe the figures are even higher."
The reactions of the advocacy community since Sunday are also critical of CDC's two-year delay in releasing this data which has many implications: failed prevention programs, bureaucratic snarls between federal and state reporting systems, reduced funding, failure to address needs of marginalized populations, and now, a larger population of HIV positive individuals increasing the public health risk and needing appropriate care and treatment.
In a statement released by the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen, delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, said the CDC report "serves as a wake-up call we need as a nation" and underscores the need for a national strategy "that not only emphasizes prevention in the general community and ensures that the funding follows the trends of the epidemic, but also that calls for an end to ideology-driven policies like abstinence-only programs and bans on needle exchange."
The full report of the CDC study appears in the Aug. 6 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was released on the eve of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.