CDC Director at U.S. Conference on AIDS Calls for Increased HIV Testing To Help Curb Disease’s SpreadCDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding on Friday at the 2003 U.S. Conference on AIDS in New Orleans called for increased access to rapid HIV tests to help identify the estimated 280,000 HIV-positive people in the United States who do not know their status, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Gerberding, citing CDC estimates, said that people who know their HIV status are more likely to receive treatment for the disease and more likely to change high-risk behavior that might put their sexual partners at risk of contracting HIV, the Times-Picayune reports. Making rapid testing more available is part of the CDC's new HIV/AIDS prevention strategy (Pope, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/20). The CDC announced the prevention initiative, which urges more emphasis on identifying and counseling people who are already HIV-positive, in April (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/29). Gerberding said that the goal of the initiative is to halve the number of new HIV infections over the next five years, from 40,000 new cases each year to 20,000 new cases. Gerberding said that the number of new HIV cases has been rising for the past three years, probably because medications used to treat the disease make AIDS seem less deadly and are being mistaken for a cure and young people are taking risks because they have not witnessed their friends die, according to the Times-Picayune. However, Jose William Melendez, the field manager of an organization for gay, bisexual and transsexual Hispanic Americans, said in a speech presented before Gerberding spoke that the CDC's prevention program is "demeaning and impersonal" because it categorizes people based on their HIV status. Melendez said, "It's not advancement, but a leap backwards." Gerberding disagreed, saying that the strategy is "an addition to CDC's treatment portfolio, not a substitution." She added, "We can't fight this epidemic in black and white. We have to fight it in color" (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/20).
Vaccine Must Be Priority
At the conference on Thursday, Dr. David Ho, who helped develop combination antiretroviral HIV/AIDS medications in the mid-1990s, said that scientists must place the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine at the "front and center" of research efforts, the Times-Picayune reports (Pope, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/19). Ho, CEO of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Rockefeller University in New York, said that the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine is "extremely tough" despite recent progress in the research, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate (Gyan, Baton Rouge Advocate, 9/19). Ho said that he and colleagues have begun to develop three potential HIV/AIDS vaccines but added that such a vaccine remains "years away" (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/19). The four-day U.S. Conference on AIDS ended yesterday (Gyan, Baton Rouge Advocate, 9/18).