The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented some disturbing data last week at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.: Of the 1.1 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, a mere 25 percent of them have their virus under control, which is also referred to as having an undetectable viral load. Viral load is the amount of HIV virus in one's blood.
Having a higher viral load can jeopardize the health of the person living with HIV/AIDS and can even lead to death. It also means that the person living with HIV/AIDS has a higher chance of transmitting the disease to others if they have unprotected sex.
Being on treatment is the most effective way to keep someone's viral load in check.
And while researchers admitted the lack of viral suppression was an issue for the entire HIV community, they found that African-Americans and young people fared worse. According to HealthDay, by analyzing 2009 data, which has yet to be published, the CDC found:
— Only 1 in 5 (20 percent) of African-Americans have their viral loads suppressed, compared to
— One-third of Blacks living with HIV/AIDS have ongoing care, compared to 37 percent of Latinos and 38 percent of whites.
—Blacks and young people diagnosed with HIV were less likely to be aware of their status and least likely to get any care.
— Only 15 percent of those aged 25 to 34 have their virus under control compared with 36 percent among those aged 55 to 64.
It's important to note that the researchers didn't offer any real explanations as to why so many people living with HIV/AIDS do not have their virus in check. And while some experts may blame complacency as a reason, Irene Hall, an epidemiologist for the CDC told HealthDay that there is more at play.
"Our study did not look at the reasons for why people are not in care, or are not prescribed [antiretroviral therapy] or don't have viral suppression." She added, "But in general we do know there are differences in access to care and in insurance status. There is also a stigma associated with [HIV], and some people might distrust the medical system."
In a CDC press release, Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention said that testing and treatment is crucial, but the obstacles that people face to accessing those resources need to be addressed. “To realize the full potential of using treatment as prevention, we must first overcome barriers to reaching those at greatest risk." He added, "Increasing HIV testing, strengthening care for all people with HIV, and reducing these disparities in treatment are critical to achieving the goal of an AIDS-free generation in America.”
Overall, African-Americans make up a mere 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, but we account for almost half of all new HIV infections that are diagnosed each year. It's estimated that 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV infection at some point in their lifetime, as will 1 in 32 Black women. Perhaps this new data can help us understand why we bear the brunt of this epidemic.
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(Photo: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)