Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Our Communities are Burning

By Steve Villano

The big news out of Mexico City this week—where thousands of delegates are gathered for the 17th Annual International AIDS Conference—is that while the United States has just allocated $50 billion to fight AIDS worldwide over the next five years, HIV cases in the US are raging out of control.

In a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the CDC admitted that it had under-reported the number of new HIV infections occurring in the US annually by some 40 per cent. Using 2006 as the most recent year for which the latest figures are available, the CDC found that 53,300 people became HIV positive in that year, compared with the 40,000 per year statistic the agency has been citing annually.

The respected British scientific journal The Lancet, said that the “U.S. efforts to prevent HIV have failed dismally,” in criticizing the CDC’s refusal to release the startling new statistics it has had since last fall. CDC officials have pointed to new HIV testing methods as the reason for the increase in the reporting of new infections.

Whatever the official reasons, those of us involved in the day-to-day combat with HIV/AIDS are not surprised by the enormous undercount of HIV infected Americans.

We have long known that accurate reporting of HIV infections was woefully insufficient in communities of color and among gay and bisexual men. The latest findings confirm what local AIDS service organizations have known for years: that HIV/AIDS has its greatest impact among gay & bisexual men of all races, and among African-American men and women.

And, the new HIV infection figures point to the urgency of the federal government—and non-profit organizations like Cable Positive—to do much, much more on HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention. California Congressman Henry A. Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said that, “HIV prevention has been under funded and too often hindered by politics & ideology. “ Congressman Waxman pointed out that, “since 2002, when adjusted for inflation, CDC’s HIV/AIDS prevention budget has actually shrunk by 19 percent, and that the President has recently requested additional decreases in funding for HIV prevention at CDC.”

Waxman’s words were echoed by the head of the CDC’s prevention efforts, Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, who told the New York Times, that the “CDC’s new incidence estimates reveal that the HIV epidemic is and has been worse than previously known.”

For an organization that specializes in communicating messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention, Cable Positive’s work is now, more important than ever before. The AIDS epidemic is a global crisis, and domestically, HIV infection is a growing emergency, that the communications industry—working directly through Cable Positive—has the means to fight. Our communities are in flames, and just as local cable systems and networks would provide public service announcement and programs aimed at fire prevention to protect the neighborhoods they serve from destruction, delivering messages of HIV/AIDS prevention is our civic, moral and corporate responsibility

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