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HIV Infection Numbers Drop For First Time in Decades, But Not Everyone Benefits

For the first time since the mid-1990s, the official estimate of annual HIV infections, or incidence, in the United States has decreased notably. According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control earlier this week, HIV incidence dropped 18% in recent years, going from an estimated 45,700 infections in 2008 to 37,600 in 2014. This reduction in new HIV infections—the first official one in nearly two decades—is a welcome development at a time when good news in health care is becoming hard to come by with the specter of Affordable Care Act repeal looming in Congress. 

The study’s findings had their share of troubling aspects as well. The undeniable progress that was made in the fight against HIV infection in America in recent years was not distributed evenly. The largest amounts of reductions in HIV incidence over the 6-year period covered by the study came from heterosexuals and people who inject drugs, who saw their new HIV infections decline by 36% and 56% respectively. Slightly smaller decreases were also seen among certain age groups of gay and bisexual men, with a 26% drop for gay and bisexual men between the ages of 35 and 44, and an 18% drop for gay and bisexual men between the ages of 13 and 24.

Unfortunately there were several populations who saw their new HIV infections remain stable or increase over the course of the study. The HIV incidence among black gay and bisexual men stayed at the still alarmingly high number of 10,100 new infections at the beginning and end of the 6-year period, while there were increases among Latino gay and bisexual men, and gay and bisexual men between the ages of 25 and 34. Latino gay and bisexual men saw a 20% increase in HIV incidence between 2008 and 2014 while gay and bisexual men between the ages of 25 and 34 experienced a 35% increase in HIV incidence over the same period. Similarly, the South continued to be overrepresented in terms of HIV incidence, as the 37% of the US population that lives in the South accounted for 50% of new HIV infections in 2014.

There is reason for cautious celebration in the results of this study, as any significant decrease in new HIV infections should be lauded. But, with the rise in HIV incidence for portions of the population and a health care system currently in flux, it’s important that we recognize that even more vigilant prevention efforts are needed in the future if we are to maintain and improve upon this progress.  

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, February 17, 2017

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