According to the results of a study released this fall, HIV prevalence will most likely skyrocket among gay men in Western nations as they age. The University of Pittsburgh report, a review of papers published in journals, indicates that the number of new HIV cases among men who have sex with men has risen by about 1.9% each year since 2001, meaning that as gay men in a particular age group get older, HIV prevalence in that group will increase at an accelerating rate.
'Ongoing incidence rates at this level will yield very high HIV prevalence rates within each generation of gay men,' University of Pittsburgh researcher Ron Stall says. Although only one in 12 gay men age 20 were infected with HIV in North America and Europe in 2001, Stall and other researchers project that the rate could rise to one in four by the time they turn 30. The projections suggest that by age 60, 58% of the men could be infected.
The numbers are more dire for gay men of color: 4% between the ages of 15 and 22 are currently infected, while 15% between the ages of 23 and 29 are infected. At an average annual rate of increase in new infections of 4%, three quarters of black gay men in the latter age category could be infected at age 50.
'It's not a new story,' Stall says. 'It has been repeated time and again in the literature in the past'an almost unbelievable incidence rate. African-American men who have sex with men suffer among the highest HIV prevalence rates of any risk group in the world.'
The report's findings only underscore the need for better ways of preventing HIV infection, instead of just treating its effects. 'HIV is still an incurable disease,' Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the National Center for HIV at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says. And in the United States, according to Valdiserri, only 5% of the budget for HIV is spent on prevention.
'America is more interested in treating this disease than preventing it,' he adds. 'We can't treat our way out of this epidemic, even as a rich country.'