Congressman Mike Honda is Silicon Valley's representative in Congress, a senior member of the Budget Committee and Appropriations Committee and chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
This week marks the launch of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C,, bringing together advocates, researchers, and leaders to discuss the state of HIV/AIDS around the world and the next steps that need to be taken in the global fight.
It has been over 20 years since the United States has hosted this conference; this landmark moment is a testament to the progress that has been made to combat HIV and AIDS worldwide, from lifting of HIV/AIDS travel restrictions to the approval of the first over-the-counter home use HIV test. The major indicators tracking HIV/AIDS rates show that we have made great progress in staving off infections. For the first time in a generation, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of new infections within the United States has gone down. Additionally, most countries around the world are reporting stabilizing prevalence rates.
Ironically, some in the United States are trying to use these trends to undermine the continuing fight against HIV/AIDS. Many Republicans in Congress, for example, are advocating deep cuts to funding for domestic programs such as Ryan White and international programs such as the Global Fund and PEPFAR. Similarly, some states have contemplated using HIV/AIDS funds on other projects. What these critics fail to realize is that though we have won a multitude of battles, we are still losing the war in many communities.
HIV/AIDS is still a fierce and urgent problem in the United States. There are still over 50,000 people annually who contract the disease in America. Those who contend that sufficient funding has been allocated toward combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic should look at Washington D.C., the host city for the conference, to see how much work we have left to do. The city has highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country, with 2.7 percent of its residents having HIV or AIDS, a rate that is higher than most places in Africa. This is a stark reality rooted almost exclusively in minority communities.
Nationwide, approximately 44 percent of new HIV infections are seen in the African-American community. An African-American woman is 15 times more likely than a Caucasian woman to be infected. Additional work in the Latino and gay and bisexual communities, accounting for 20 percent and 61 percent of new infections respectively, confirm similar trends. Alarmingly, rural and other nonmetropolitan areas have shown increased rates of infections, even though reports have shown decreased rates in metropolitan areas. These populations share the worst access to healthcare, lack of awareness surrounding the disease, and are less likely to use preventative care. To this point, the Asian-American Pacific Islander community, for example, has one of the lowest testing rates in the nation. Exacerbating this issue is that in many areas of our nation, especially in the south, HIV/AIDS still carries a stigma that prevents many of those at-risk for the disease to seek preventative or remedial measures. Currently, only 40 percent of infected patients in the United States are getting consistent treatment.
Countless countries across the world face the same issues. For instance, over 390,000 children a year are being infected with the disease via transmission from their mother, despite the fact that drugs exist to specifically target this type of transmission. The problem is that these people are not aware of the preventative medicine available and their communities are not getting the supplies they need. Thus, the convening of the AIDS conference in Washington, D.C. serves not only as an update of our progress, but an urgent call to continued vigilance and action as well.