New HIV/AIDS Plan Calls For Reducing Infections

The Obama administration wants to get the U.S. HIV-AIDS epidemic under control. It's introducing a new national HIV-AIDS strategy to reduce new infections, target the most vulnerable groups — such as gay men and African-Americans — and address disparities in care and treatment.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the White House rolled out its national AIDS strategy, and as surprising as it may seem, the U.S. has never had a national AIDS strategy. It has had commissioners and czars, and different agencies of the federal government have conducted research, providing funding for treatment and tracking the AIDS epidemic. But the Obama administration is touting this as the first coordinated national effort to end HIV in the U.S.

NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON: For years now, there has been very little change in the number of people infected with HIV: each year, more than 50,000. So the administration has come up with a strategy that has three major objectives: to reduce the spread of the disease, improve care for people who are infected and reduce disparities.

The director of the White House Office of AIDS Policy, Jeffrey Crowley, explains how they'll get the infection rates down.

Mr. JEFFREY CROWLEY (Director, White House Office of AIDS Policy): We need to intensify our prevention efforts in communities where HIV is most heavily concentrated. We need to expand targeted efforts to prevent HIV infection using a combination, and that's the key word, a combination of effective evidence-based approaches. And third, we need to educate all Americans about the threat of HIV and how to prevent it.

WILSON: Under this strategy, the federal government's prevention efforts will target gay men and other men who have sex with men, who are the largest group affected by HIV. Also being targeted are Hispanics, African-Americans and other minorities, particularly in the South and Eastern part of the country.

Dr. Michael Saag(ph), the president of the HIV Medical Association, is from Alabama and is impressed with the strategy. There was a need, he says, to recognize that the epidemic that started in large, urban centers has changed.

Dr. MICHAEL SAAG (President, HIV Medical Association): People in our state are suffering with HIV, especially black women in rural areas who are infected, don't suspect that they're infected and show up late with advanced AIDS, where treatments are less effective, these individuals are just totally taken by surprise.

WILSON: He says the most critical piece of the new strategy is its emphasis on getting people into treatment soon after they are diagnosed, which should be seen as a form of prevention.

Dr. SAAG: Once you put the person on treatment, their amount of virus in their bloodstream goes to undetectable levels, and there are estimates that say there is no further transmission of HIV from that person to someone else.

WILSON: But by highlighting the need to improve treatment and reduce disparities, Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute says the administration is raising questions about the more-than-2,000 people on a waiting list for assistance in paying for AIDS drugs and the ADAP program.

Mr. PHILL WILSON (Black AIDS Institute): The president just announced a one-time infusion of $25 million in the ADAP program. That's good. But that's just a fraction of what the experts say are needed to eliminate the waiting list. We need $125 million if we're serious about getting people on treatment who are currently depending on the ADAP program.

WILSON: The strategy itself seems to be foreseeing a time when people with HIV will either qualify for expanded Medicaid or government-funded health coverage. Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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