A leading magazine on HIV/AIDS says whoever wins the US presidential election Tuesday, November 4th, should develop a national strategy to fight the disease. POZ Magazine says more than one million Americans live with HIV and 14 thousand people died of the disease in the United States in 2006. It's estimated that 25 percent of those infected with the AIDS virus don't know it.
Regan Hofmann, editor-in-chief of POZ, spoke from New York to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why a national AIDS strategy is needed.
"For the entire epidemic to date, now almost 28 years, we've had sort of a combination of small grassroots work being done and then large-scale projects and initiatives, but there hasn't been the coordination that is needed to make sure that all of the people, who are living with HIV, can access care and treatment," she says.
The epidemic in the United States is larger than many realized. "The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) this summer announced that the numbers for HIV incidents in the US over the last five years were about 40 percent higher than we previously estimated. AIDS is not going away in America. It's a preventable disease. So, something's broken here because we know how to stop the disease. We can prevent the transmission of HIV and yet we're not. We know how to keep people alive and yet people are still dying of AIDS in America," she says.
She says whoever wins the election should "acknowledge" that there is an AIDS epidemic in the United States "and puts forward a plan immediately to deal with it. The funding is not commensurate with the need in the United States."
Hofmann says many federal and state AIDS-related programs have faced significant budget cuts in recent years.
POZ recommends seven steps to deal with the AIDS epidemic in the United States, including addressing stigma and discrimination. Hofmann says, "The number one barrier, I believe, to people getting tested and people coming forward for care is stigma, fear of what's going to happen to them when they tell people they have HIV. I lived anonymously with HIV for 10 years. I didn't want to tell anybody because I was afraid I would lose my family, my friends, my job, house. We have to change the way the world sees AIDS."
She says the culture of blaming and condemning someone who's HIV positive must end. "This is a retrovirus. It's nothing more and nothing less, but we have to change the way that people think about AIDS so that people aren't afraid to get tested. They aren't afraid to go and get care. People who have HIV didn't do anything bad. And yet society, and even those living with the disease, sometimes think otherwise," she says.
POZ recommends identifying "evidence-based prevention tactics that work and tailor them to individual audiences." The editor-in-chief says, "There's no one silver bullet for a prevention message. You have to speak directly to people in a way that resonates with them. You have to show them people they can identify with. You have to acknowledge what their lifestyle is and make recommendations that are reasonable within that lifestyle."
She warns that many young people, who were born after the initial fear that AIDS caused, are ignorant about how the disease can be prevented. As a result, she says many are engaging in risky sexual behavior, such as oral or anal sex, thinking HIV cannot be contract by these methods.
Hofmann says that more money must be spent to find a vaccine or cure for the disease because the cost of treatment and prevention will continue to rise. "This has become a global economic crisis. It's been a humanitarian crisis for a long, long time…. We're looking at how in the world the world is going to be able to pay for all of these people. So, there's absolutely incentive, I think, to look for the answer to this disease. We can't bear the cost of AIDS.For more on the POZ Magazine article, AIDS in the White House, go to www.poz.com.