World AIDS Day: The Time to Act Is Now

December 1st is World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people to raise awareness about HIV and help the world move closer to the goal of an AIDS-free generation. This year’s theme, “The Time to Act Is Now,” calls us to act with urgency to implement the latest high-impact, evidence-based HIV prevention strategies.

In 2015, 34 years after AIDS first hit the headlines, we are getting closer than ever to realizing the potential to one day end AIDS. It will be challenging and stakeholders across all sectors of our society—including, state and governments, local health departments, hospitals and health care providers, community-based organizations, coalitions of persons living with HIV and others will continue to be critical to achieving this goal by deploying the resources, principles, priorities and actions as outlined in the 2015-2020 National Strategy Plan update and in the state plans to follow.

Back in the 1980’s I worked in health care when we first began treating a growing number of patients with a combination of symptoms we had never experienced before – eventually they would receive a diagnose which was named AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV can progress into AIDS, the final state of the infection when the body is unable to fight disease or infection.

HIV Infections Down Since 2000

Some 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States; 1 in 8 don’t know it.

Significant progress has been made since those early days but an estimated 36.9 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. New HIV infections have fallen 35% since 2000. New pediatric HIV infections have dropped by 58% worldwide since 2000. Around 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States, and 1 in 8 don’t know it.

In the USA, the number of new HIV infections reported have decreased from approximately 130,000 a year to 50,000 a year since the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. The majority of us know of someone with AIDS, whether they are a celebrity, sports figure, friend or relative.

New US AIDS Strategy

In honor of World AIDS Day the US Centers for Disease Control is releasing the updated National HIV.AIDS Strategy. The 2010 strategy changed the way the American people talked about HIV, how we prioritized and organized prevention and care services locally, and how clinical and non-clinical services were delivered to support people living with HIV to remain engaged in care.

The 2015 update looks toward 2020 with the following statements in mind:

  • There is still an HIV epidemic and it remains a major health issue for the United States.
  • Most people can live long, healthy lives with HIV if they are diagnosed and get treatment.
  • For a variety of reasons, certain populations bear a disproportionate burden of HIV.
  • People across the nation deserve access to tools and education to prevent HIV transmission.
  • Every person diagnosed with HIV deserves immediate access to treatment and care that is non stigmatizing, competent, and responsive to the needs of the diverse populations impacted by HIV.

Focus for Next 5 Years

UN’s Rapid Scale-Up Campaign GoalsThe 2015 update also names four key areas that are of critical focus for the next five years:

  • Widespread testing and linkage to care, enabling people living with HIV to access treatment early.
  • Broad support for people living with HIV to remain engaged in comprehensive care, including support for treatment adherence.
  • Universal viral suppression among people living with HIV.
  • Full access to comprehensive PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) services for those whom it is appropriate and desired, with support for medication adherence for those using PrEP.

United Nations “Rapid Scale-Up” Program

Meanwhile, ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is one objective of Sustainable Development Goals announced in September.  Toward that end, the UN is launching a campaign to rapidly scale-up HIV prevention and treatment:

Front-loading investments in the fragile five-year window up to 2020 could reduce new HIV infections by 89% and AIDS-related deaths by 81% by 2030.

Achieving that would reduce AIDS-related deaths by 21 million in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.

By working together on national and world wide goals we can advance toward the goal of an AIDS-free generation. To accomplish this each of us need to become educated on the facts.

About Deana Allen

Deana E. Allen is Senior Vice President of the Willis Towers Watson National Health Care Practice, based in Atlanta…
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