A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics suggests that nearly half of all American adults living with HIV aren’t on antiretroviral medications. It’s these medications that turn HIV from a death sentence into a manageable chronic condition. And not being on antiretroviral therapy doesn’t just harm the person with HIV; studies have shown that those on meds are much less likely to pass the virus on to their sexual partners.
The World Health Organization recently issued a call for anyone with HIV to begin antiretroviral medication immediately. But this small study points to the disparities that make that difficult. The report, authored by Dr. Joseph Woodring and based on a survey of more than 10,000 people between 2007 and 2012, found that 0.39 percent of people aged 18 to 59 living in U.S. households were HIV-positive. Of those, only 52 percent were on antiretroviral medication.
“This highlights the challenges we have ahead because we have such an unequal epidemic,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, codirector of the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University, told Health Day. “HIV is a concentrated epidemic, and does not affect people equally.”
The study indicates that HIV infection rates continue to be elevated among people considered to be at higher risk. People with 10 or more sexual partners in their lifetime had a 0.68 percent rate of infection. Men who had sex with other men had a 7.7 percent rate (versus 0.17 percent of men who reported no sexual contact with other men).
Men remain more likely to be HIV-positive than women, and African-Americans continue to have the highest rate of HIV of any racial or ethnic group, at 1.6 percent; in fact, blacks have an HIV rate seven times higher than all other racial or ethnic groups combined.
Del Rio said the fact that 48 percent of HIV-positive people hadn’t taken antiretroviral medications within the last month indicates a huge disparity between reality and the goals of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. The international organization hopes by the year 2020 that 90 percent of those who are HIV-positive will know their status, 90 percent of those who have been diagnosed as HIV-positive will be on antiretroviral medications, and 90 percent of those on treatment will have an undetectable viral load.