Sheila C. Johnson: How Much Do You Know about HIV/AIDS?

In 1983, both Newsweek and TIME devoted
cover stories to a new, strange, and deadly
disease, with terrifying titles like
"Epidemic" and "The AIDS Hysteria." In
those awful days, nearly three decades ago,
it seemed like AIDS was everywhere--the
grimmest of reapers, waiting to strike,
without hope of prevention or cure.
Then, in 1984, Dr. Robert Gallo and Dr. Luc
Montagnier co-discovered HIV as the cause
of the disease. And by the mid-1990s,
exciting progress was being made on anti-
retroviral therapies that kept the infection
at bay.
More than 20,000 delegates from around the
world have convened in Washington, D.C. to
attend the 2012 International AIDS
Conference--to celebrate progress, share
scientific discoveries, and seize the
potential to definitively "turn the tide" on
It's a thrilling moment -- and yet, it's a
moment of serious challenge as well: a
challenge to all of us to make sure we stay
aware, stay educated, and stay engaged, so
that we can sustain the momentum and
keep moving forward instead of back.
Did you know, for example, that in this
country, African Americans are the racial
group most affected by HIV? We make up
14% of the U.S. population, yet account for
44% of new HIV infections, with black men's
estimated rate of infection more than six
times that of white men, and black
women's estimated rate 15 times the rate
for white women. In Washington, D.C.,
which has epidemic rates of infection, black
women account for nine of every 10 women
with HIV. Nationwide, Hispanics and Latinos
are also disproportionately affected.
According to the CDC, at some point in life,
1 in 36 Latino men will be diagnosed with
Did you know that while there are
estimated to be more than a million
Americans living with HIV/AIDS, as many as
one in five still aren't aware that they're
infected? Understanding your status is
critical to keeping yourself healthy, and to
keeping your loved ones safe. A
breakthrough study last year found that
people with HIV placed on antiretrovirals
early on in their infection were 96 percent
less likely to pass HIV on to their partners.
In other words, treatment is prevention; it
can not only save one life, it can save
many. Just a few weeks ago, the FDA
approved an at-home rapid HIV test,
OraQuick, making it possible to test in the
privacy of your home. And Walgreens, in
partnership with the CDC, is piloting a
program to offer free HIV screening in
selected pharmacies in Washington D.C.,
Chicago, and elsewhere. All it takes is a
mouth swab. You'll get your results in 20
Did you know that while men who have sex
with men remain the most severely
affected population in the United States,
individuals infected through heterosexual
contact accounted for 27% of estimated
new HIV infections in 2009? Or that
injection drug users represented 9% of new
infections that same year? Programs that
provide clean needles to drug users are
some of the most effective ways to reduce
rates of HIV infection among intravenous
drug users, but conservative politicians
have insisted on making federal funding of
these programs illegal. This isn't just bad
policy -- it's deadly policy, and we need to
raise our voices against it.
Did you know there are more ways for
individuals and couples to protect
themselves? Female condoms are now
available for sale at pharmacies around the
country, giving women the option to
practice safe sex without relying on their
partners to use condoms. And just this
week, the FDA approved for prescription a
pill called Truvada, which is shown to be
effective in preventing HIV among those at
high risk of becoming infected.
Over the last 30 years, our understanding of
AIDS has improved dramatically, bringing us
to a point of unprecedented possibility and
hope. Now is the time to build on that
momentum, and end the epidemic for good.
That's what the International AIDS
Conference is about, but we all have a role
to play. In order to "turn the tide together,"
we all must take responsibility--for
ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our

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