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Researchers cite complacency as black America battles surging HIV rates

posted 21 Jul 2012, 02:38 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 21 Jul 2012, 02:39 ]

AIDS researchers caution against complacency citing growing HIV infection rates in the African-American community, as the U.S. prepares to host the International AIDS Conference in Washington. Pavithra George reports.






USA/FILE-AIDS-AFRICAN AMERICANS -31 year old Daina Jackson gets tested for HIV-AIDS at the United Medical Center in Washington D.C.

The mother of three came to treat a painful leg infection, but stayed back to get the test.

The tests are free and the results are quick-- those who test positive get to see a doctor the very same day.


 

DAINA JACKSON, ER PATIENT, SAYING:

"Some people just don't want to know, you know, but it's something that, like I said, it's out here and it should be known by everyone and it should be offered to everyone, conveniently, so no one has a reason to not get it done."


Located in a largely African-American neighborhood, the clinic was started in response to the epidemic-level rates of HIV prevalence in the U.S. capital, especially in the black community.


The city, that hosts the International AIDS Conference or AIDS 2012, this weekend---now stands out a hotspot in the fight against the global epidemic.


Almost 3 percent of the city's population is living with HIV ---three quarters of them---- African-Americans.

The numbers reflect the gradually changing face of the epidemic that was once stigmatized as a "homosexual disease" but in the last decade has affected a disproportionate numbers of African-Americans, particularly black women.


Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health says researchers know a lot about prevention and treatment but not enough about how to reach those most at-risk. He says complacency is a key challenge in the fight against AIDS.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH, SAYING:

"The good news is that we have good therapies, we have good methods of prevention. The sobering news is that there is some complacency because if you look here in the US, early in the years of the pandemic, when you looked at the number of newly infected people each year it soared up in the 80s till it went up to 120, 130,000 new infections a year. Then it peaked and started to come down, but when it came down it sort of settled into a plateau of about 50000 new infections each year in the United States. 

That is completely unacceptable and we've got to do better that"


In sharp contrast, infection rates have steadily dropped in parts of the developing world

A new UN report says an estimated 8 million people in low and middle income countries are receiving antiretroviral drugs.


In sub-Saharan Africa the number of new HIV infections are down by more than 26 percent, from the height of epidemic in 1997.


Greater access to medicine has helped AIDS patients live longer, but Fauci says treating more HIV-infected people remains a top priority

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH, SAYING:

"The sobering news is less than half of the people who really need therapy are actually getting it and unfortunately for every one person we put on therapy in the developing world two people get newly affected so its fighting almost a losing battle."


But despite the challenges Fauci says he sees a light at the end of the tunnel and believes the disease will be eradicated.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH, SAYING:

"I believe we see the end in sight, I couldn't have said this 10 years ago but right now we can skip the inflection of the epidemic we can get that curve to to stop pointing downward."


For Nona Resumadaro, supervisor at the United Medical Center, the path to eradication starts with the first step---getting tested for HIV/AIDS. One in five Americans are unaware that they are infected.


NONA RESUMADERO, SUPERVISOR, EMERGENCY ROOM NURSE AT UNITED MEDICAL CENTER, SAYING:

"When you go from zero testing to these large staggering numbers, and you are getting a 2 percent positivity rate, this is people that never knew that they had it. So, you know, they are living their lives and doing their every day things not knowing that they have the disease and there's actually treatment out there for it."


AIDS 2012 kicks off on July 22nd in Washington D.C.


With 25,000 people expected to attend, the event raises hopes that the city with some of the highest rates of HIV infection in the U.S. will lead the way in finding a cure to stem the epidemic and eradicate the disease.


Pavithra George, Reuters
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