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Goodbye, 2009: The new decade brings new hope

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Goodbye, 2009: The new decade brings new hope

The improvements in treatment witnessed in the last decade were counterbalanced by ever-growing numbers of new HIV infections.

by Kelly A. McCann

KellyMcCann_WPTN
Kelly McCann

Happy New Year! Now that 2009 is over, all I can say is, “What a relief!” It was one tough year. Recession, H1N1, an arsonist in the Heights—I could go on and on. 2009 was fraught with hardships, disappointments, and bad news. Not only was 2009 an awful year, but Time magazine recently declared 2000 through 2009 the worst decade ever! Well, they did admit that the 1930s and the Great Depression sucked, as did the first half of the 1940s with World War II. Nevertheless, our recently concluded decade was bad enough to rate amongst the worst decades of all time.

It began with hanging chads and the debacle that was the presidential election of 2000. Then came 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Madrid train bombings, and innumerable other acts of terrorism. Next we saw the 2004 tsunami followed by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, record-breaking unemployment numbers, and our country’s near economic meltdown.

And those are just a few of the rotten things that occurred in the previous 10 years.

On the HIV/AIDS front, the past decade receives mixed reviews. Certainly, there were great accomplishments in the area of HIV treatment. Several highly active anti-retroviral medications have been developed since 2000. These new treatments, and even some new categories of medications, attack HIV or interrupt its replication in different ways, and they provide treatment options for patients with multi-drug resistance whose more traditional regimens are failing. As a result, many people with AIDS are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.

Sadly, the improvements in treatment witnessed in the last decade were counterbalanced by ever-growing numbers of new HIV infections. For many years, the CDC believed the number of new HIV infections in the U.S. was holding steady at about 40,000 per year, which was plenty bad enough. However, in 2008, the CDC released revised estimates that suggested the actual number is closer to 55,000 to 60,000 new infections annually!

Despite the increased number of Americans living with HIV/AIDS, now estimated to be at 1.2 million, media coverage of the U.S. epidemic continued to decline in the past decade. A recent study showed the number of Americans reporting they saw, heard, or read “a lot” or “some” about the issue of HIV/AIDS in the past year declined from 70 percent in 2004 to 45 percent in 2009. The decreasing number of stories about HIV and/or domestic AIDS issues may be due to “AIDS fatigue” on the part of media outlets or evidence of a shift in focus to the global pandemic. Or it may be a reflection of American attitudes about the disease.

According to a 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey, Americans’ sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS has fallen considerably in recent years. In 2006, 17 percent of the U.S. population viewed HIV as the most urgent health problem facing the nation, but that number dropped to just six percent in 2009. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases now outrank HIV/AIDS as the most significant health issue facing our country.

Moreover, the KFF survey reported an overall decrease in the numbers of our citizens who say they are very concerned about becoming infected with HIV. In fact, there has been an observable steady decline in this area over time, from 24 percent in 1997 to just 13 percent in 2009.

On a happier note, the previous decade gave us some hopeful signs that HIV/AIDS may carry less stigma that it once did. A majority of respondents to the KFF survey (69 percent) stated people they know would not think less of them if they found out they had been tested for HIV. That’s up from 62 percent in 2006. In addition, the survey reflected a slow but steady increase in the number of people who would feel comfortable working with an HIV-infected colleague, rising from 32 percent in 1997 to 44 percent today.

Bad or good, the past is the past. We must now focus on the future. As we look to the new year and the new decade, we will inevitably see enhancements in medications, increased access to care for those living with HIV/AIDS, and continued progress in the areas of HIV stigma and discrimination. We should also look for advances in the development of an effective HIV vaccine, as recent studies in Thailand and Uganda have offered much hope. In addition, we should observe improvements in HIV prevention due to effective microbicides and the increased use of post-exposure prophylaxis.

So, grab your shades. Stormy as this past decade was, the future of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention looks bright.

Kelly McCann is chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston (AIDSHelp.org.) You can check out her blog at McCannicalMusings.Wordpress.com.

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