As has been widely reported,
CDC has put out a revised estimate of HIV incidence in the United States.
This long-awaited data shows an annual rate of approximately 56,300
new cases a year — 40% higher than previous estimates — and also
confirms a persistent epidemic in Black Americans, and rising rates
in gay men and other men who have sex with men.
The revision also includes
a back-calculation revealing that, between 1991-2006, infection rates
were approximately 25 – 50% higher than the long-held 40,000 annual
People living with HIV and
other HIV prevention justice activists immediately demanded a
response from Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, the presumptive
nominees for our next President. Both men expressed support for global
AIDS funding, which was signed into law by the President this week.
But when it comes to the epidemic here at home, they haven’t had much
to say on the post-primary campaign trail.
McCain has not released an
HIV/AIDS platform, and has referred to conservative Senator Tom Coburn
(R, OK), as "the guy I
on HIV/AIDS. Obama has previously released a platform
on HIV/AIDS that
includes support for a national AIDS strategy and other domestic initiatives,
but cites Coburn as an example of his
Obama led with the call for
a national AIDS strategy, and went on to talk about "expanding access
to testing and comprehensive education programs." Notably, he also
cites homophobia as a root cause of stigma.
He also stated that "Combating
HIV/AIDS also demands closing the caps in opportunity that exist in
our society, causing one reader of a blog post on the
statements to ask
"hey Sen Obama, are the gaps you’re referring to the institutional
inequalities like racism, poverty, lack of housing, a healthcare system
that only serves the wealthy, and mass incarceration that continue to
fuel the epidemic? Hope so!"
McCain’s statement says he
would "work closely with non-profit, government and private sector
stakeholders to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS," but falls short
of committing to a national AIDS strategy. He then provides a list of
efforts on which to focus, which leads with "reducing drug costs through
greater market competition," and adds more general efforts such as
"promoting prevention efforts, encouraging testing, targeting communities
with high infection rates, strengthening research and reducing disparities
through effective public outreach."
A more accurate incidence estimate could serve as a wake-up
call. But it’s equally likely that this awful news could
just fade away from view in a nation that seems to have a bottomless capacity
for bias and neglect — especially when it comes to queer people and people
As with so many issues in HIV/AIDS,
we do not have to hunt for a conspiracy to explain how we have found
ourselves in this troubling state of affairs. The damning evidence is
right out in the open.
Our country has:
- no national AIDS
- funding for HIV prevention
that was flat, and then actually declined
- persistent, Jesse Helms-era
restrictions on proven means of effective prevention; and
- the pernicious intersection
of HIV and major social injustices, such as mass imprisonment of the
racial and ethnic groups disproportionately impacted by the epidemic
as well as the sanction of bias against sexual and gender minorities.
On the day this article is published, it’s likely that another American will become HIV positive
about every ten minutes — and over a third of them will be under 30
years old. Will we point fingers at them and cast blame, further fueling
Or will we — and our leaders,
including our next president — finally take a long, unflinching
look at a country that tolerates bullying and unrelenting violence against
LGBT youth, funds ideologically motivated programs in our schools, defunds
and suppresses research on sexuality and public health, swells our jails
and prisons by locking up unprecedented numbers of people from the racial
and ethnic communities hardest-hit by HIV, and has never provided
necessary HIV prevention education and tools to any significant percentage
of the population?