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Reaching a New Generation of Americans: Re-energizing our Focus after 30 Years of AIDS

Co-authored by Jonathan A. Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, CDC

Jonathan MerminKevin FentonThirty years ago, on June 5, 1981, CDC published the first report of cases of what is now known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reported on Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles, California. These cases were later recognized as the first reported cases of AIDS in the United States.

In reflecting on the epidemic at its 30th year, we are entering the next decade of our fight against HIV and AIDS with an aggressive focus on increasing the impact of prevention. Today, we have a National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States to guide those efforts. The Strategy calls for us to focus on the most effective interventions, with the risk groups and populations most affected by the epidemic, where we can have the greatest effect.

HIV prevention has already saved numerous lives, including over 350,000 in the United States alone. New infections in the United States have decreased by more than two-thirds since the height of the epidemic and are also now decreasing globally.

Recent breakthroughs in HIV prevention have created exciting opportunities that can potentially open the door to much greater gains in prevention in the United States. New biomedical tools such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, microbicides, and use of antiretroviral therapy for treatment and prevention may offer additional protection for people who are at high risk. Rates of HIV testing are at an all-time high.

However, more needs to be done. Unless we increase the impact of our HIV prevention efforts, continued growth in the population living with HIV will lead to increases in new infections and massive new costs to our nation’s health care system. More than 50,000 people become infected each year in the United States. New CDC data show that more than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and as that number grows, opportunities for HIV transmission increase.

It is important that we maintain our resolve to end this epidemic. A new generation of Americans needs to be reached. Today’s young people have never known a time without effective HIV treatment. Even for many older Americans, the early days of AIDS seem distant. Still many Americans remain at risk. More infections are occurring among people under 30 years of age than in any other age group. Data show substantial new infections occurring among some middle-aged groups—especially gay and bisexual men in their 40s and 50s. We need to break through this complacency and put HIV back on the national agenda. The sooner we begin to cut the number of new infections, the more lives we will save.

On this 30th commemoration of HIV/AIDS, let us remember those lost to this terrible disease, renew our commitment to service, and re-energize our focus. Thank you for your continued efforts in the struggle against HIV in the United States. It is through the efforts of all our many dedicated colleagues and partners that we have made the progress we have seen in the last 30 years and the continued progress that we hope to see in the future.

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