Shift in AIDS Education Strategy, Misconceptions About Drug Successes Could Contribute to Higher HIV Incidence Rate
The Los Angeles Times on Saturday examined how federally funded HIV/AIDS campaigns that were originally focused on educating the general public about the disease "are now targeted at a narrower group of people who already have the disease" (Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 10/17). CDC in May awarded $49 million in grants to 142 community-based organizations' programs that focus on identifying people who are already HIV-positive in its first round of funding since announcing the new strategy in April 2003. CDC has said that the previous emphasis on community outreach prevention programs has proven ineffective, citing annual increases in the number of new HIV cases nationwide. The new effort aims to increase accessibility to HIV testing -- especially using the rapid HIV test that can provide same-day results -- so that the approximately 200,000 HIV-positive individuals in the United States who are unaware of their status can become aware of it and prevent transmission to others (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/15). The new strategy is "a proven public health approach to infectious disease control, and the CDC has invested considerable resources in testing programs designed to help people find out if they have been exposed to HIV," according to the Times. However, the strategy shift and the success of antiretroviral drugs "have made it more difficult to reach young women and gay men who don't have the disease," the Times reports. Some people have become complacent about HIV/AIDS because of a decline in the number of AIDS-related deaths, and people "are more willing to take risks that would have been unthinkable at the epidemic's height," according to the Times. Such a situation is the "unhappy product of the progress that doctors and public health officials have made in controlling the disease," the Times reports.
In addition, HIV/AIDS has "set deep roots in minority communities," in part because minority communities "were never the main focus of AIDS education" and "continuing social taboos" against men who have sex with men make it more difficult to diagnose minority men and women, the Times reports. To reach minority families, CDC "is relying on small organizations that tailor their messages to particular ethnic or economic groups," according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 10/16).