- More than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 5 (18.1%) are unaware of their infection
- Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM),1 particularly young black/African American MSM, are most seriously affected by HIV.
- By race, blacks/African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV.
Figure1: Estimated New HIV Infections in the United States, 2010, for the Most Affected Subpopulations (from the CDC website).
Have we become complacent in our attitudes toward HIV? We are told today that HIV is a "chronically manageable disease". We have testing programs in every state. We have education and prevention programs in every state. We even have special programs (like Focus On Youth 24/7) to educate our young people on why it is important to get tested often and start treatment early if you test positive.
Yet more and more young people are choosing to ignore the cry to use "safer sex" kits (condoms, dental dams, etc.). HIV is no longer a problem for young adults. According to the CDC, one in every five people with HIV don't even know they have it. Why is that? Is it in part due to the fact that many states have chosen to make crime to have sex with a person, when you know you are HIV+, but do not tell your sex partner before having sex? This law in many ways has backfired from its original intention. Instead of encouraging people to get test for HIV, it actually discourages individuals who are sexually active from getting tested. How you might ask?
Under most state statutes which criminalize those who knowingly have HIV, yet have sex with their partner without full disclosure are committing assault to attempted murder. But these same states with the HIV criminalization law, state that if you have sex with your partner, and your partner gets infected from you, if you are unaware of your status, then you are NOT committing a crime - because if you don't know your status, you can't be held liable
As a result, may individuals who are sexually active, purposely choose NOT to get tested so they can avoid being responsible if they infect their sex partner. There are even websites (underground) which promote infecting those who don't have HIV and promote those who don't have HIV, to actively seek out an HIV+ person with the sole purpose of getting infected. They are called "bug chasers". Sound crazy? Well, it is..
Even with all the prevention, public service announcements, AIDS Service Organizations, and "Safer-Sex Campaigns", infections for HIV are on still on the rise. Today, "About 50,000 people get infected with HIV each year. In 2010, there were around 47,500 new HIV infections in the United States" (according to the CDC - see CDC Fact Sheet: New HIV Infections in the United States 2007-2010). In 2009, the CDC estimated there were 1.1 million people in the United States are infected with HIV. Of these, one in five (1 in 5) persons don't even know they have HIV. What can we do to change this? How can we be better at educating?
Following the Outfest screening of The Battle of amfAr, a documentary from Oscar-winning director Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, on Sunday, Jackson expressed that he is irked that some young people are so uneducated about the struggles gay people have faced and their general indifference to the AIDS epidemic.
“It’s the arrogance of youth,” Jackson suggested. “The lack of education, especially among the twenty-somethings, they don’t know their history and it pisses me off. I talk to these 22 or 23 years olds and there is so much rampant unsafe sex and they think, ‘Oh, I’ll take a pill’…Half of them don’t even know what Stonewall is and I just want to knock their heads together.”So maybe what is needed is a little "Shock Therapy". If more and more people who are living with HIV would share the downsides of HIV, as well as the "positive" aspects of HIV, maybe more youth would start taking seriously HIV/AIDS, start getting testing regularly and start medicines right away. Maybe if youth actually knew what those who become HIV+ must go through just to qualify for Ryan White so they can receive their life-saving medications. Maybe it might help. So what really are the downsides? What exactly do persons who discover they are HIV+ go through as it relates to the downsides of having HIV?
1CDC. Monitoring selected national HIV prevention and care objectives by using HIV surveillance data—United States and 6 U.S. dependent areas—2010. HIV Surveillance Supplemental Report 2012;17(No. 3, part A). http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/statistics_2010_HIV_Surveillance_Report_vol_17_no_3.pdf . Published June 2012.