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AIDS Conference Opens in D.C. With Snapshot of the Disease in America

July 23, 2012

News outlets examine where HIV/AIDS stands in America, what's being done to combat it, and where the future will lead.

AIDS Conference Opens at Key Turning Point
Researchers, doctors and patients attending the world's largest AIDS conference are urging the world's governments not to cut back on the fight against the epidemic when it is at a turning point. There is no cure or vaccine yet, but scientists say they have the tools to finally stem the spread of this intractable virus -- largely by using treatment not just to save patients but to make them less infectious, too. (Neergaard, The Associated Press, 7/23)

After 22 Years, AIDS Conference Comes to D.C.
The massive International AIDS Conference convenes here this week, and hopes are running high that a long-sought goal of "a generation without HIV" may be within reach. Thousands of HIV and AIDS researchers, activists and policymakers from around the world are in Washington, and it's the first time the conference has been held in the United States in 22 years, ending a boycott of a policy forbidding U.S. visas to people who had HIV that the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) originally pushed into law. (Norman, Politico, 7/22)

Global AIDS Conference Rally Calls for Cheaper Medicines, More Funding
The first International AIDS Conference to be held in the United States in more than two decades opened Sunday with repeated assertions that the 31-year-old epidemic can be realistically brought to an end with more money and attention, strategically applied. The money is needed to put millions more of the world's 34 million HIV-infected people on medication, with special attention to those most at risk of getting and transmitting the virus -- male homosexuals, drug users and the poor. (Brown, Shaver and Botelho, The Washington Post, 7/22)

AIDS Conference Opens With Eye to a Cure
Could it really be possible to cure AIDS? ... It has exploded across the world -- killing 25 million people, infecting a million more every year, and moving from gay and bisexual men into wives and mothers, to their children, and among drug users. But experts think it might be possible to stop the spread and even to speak of curing the infection in those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. And they see a hopeful symbolism, as well, in the return of the giant international conference, held every two years, to the United States, where it hasn't been in 22 years. (Fox, NBC News, 7/22)

International AIDS Conference Begins in Washington
More than 23,000 delegates -- researchers, activists, advocates and policy makers -- from nearly 200 countries came to the Washington Convention Center on Sunday for the kickoff of the International AIDS Conference, saying they want to work together to assess what the future of HIV and AIDS might hold. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius used the event to announce that the government has more than 150 antiretroviral drugs available through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, a globally funded plan begun under President George W. Bush. (Mohamed, McClatchy Newspapers, 7/22)

News stories look at what has changed since the last AIDS conference in the United States:

Everything's Different (Almost) Since Last International AIDS Conference in U.S.
AIDS has killed 35 million people. It's caused physical pain and mental anguish for many who live with it. It's created a generation of African orphans. It's drained untold trillions of dollars from national economies and people's pockets. There's also one other way to describe the AIDS saga. It's a success story. (Brown, The Washington Post, 7/21)

For Americans With HIV, There Are Many Obstacles to Successful Treatment
"The issue of how to treat patients is a done deal. We know what to do," said John G. Bartlett, 76, who watched the AIDS epidemic unfold as head of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1980 to 2006. Today, the big issues are how to find the patients, test them, get them into medical care and keep them there, provide them medicines, educate them and follow their progress. This cascade of challenges reflects both the peculiarities of this disease and medical care in the United States. (Brown, The Washington Post, 7/21)

Reporters also look at what experts at the conference are saying about the fight against AIDS:

Greg Millett: New HIV Infections Are Down, but "Much More" to Be Done (Video)
In this Kaiser Health News video, Greg Millett, a senior policy advisor in the Office of National AIDS Policy, tells Joanne Silberner that the president's National HIV/AIDS Strategy has improved coordination among federal agencies and that the 2010 health law will improve access to care for those living with HIV/AIDS. (Kaiser Health News, 7/23).

Testing, Treatment Key Weapons in AIDS Fight
Thirty years ago, we first began hearing about AIDS -- then a mysterious, unnamed disease that was initially thought to be a rare form of cancer that affected gay men. Scientists soon learned that it was neither of those things, and, in fact, it was a virus that everyone was vulnerable to. ... The battle, however, is far from over. Each year in the U.S., 50,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed. One of the hardest-hit places is Washington, D.C., which plays host this week to the International AIDS Conference. (NPR, 7/22)

New Strategies Needed to End AIDS Epidemic, Speakers Say
New strategies are needed to take advantage of scientific breakthroughs that promise to break the back of an AIDS epidemic that last year killed more than 4,000 people a day worldwide, U.S. and global officials said. In opening remarks yesterday at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius led a parade of speakers with similar messages: The world needs to be more focused and efficient in getting therapies and preventatives to those in need. ... None of the speakers, though, offered specific programs to increase global access to needed treatments. (Pettypiece and Wayne, Bloomberg, 7/23)

Shift in Strategy to Treatment as Prevention for HIV/AIDS
Jerome Smith said he never got tested for HIV until it was almost too late. By the time he was checked five years ago, his immune system was so weakened that he had developed AIDS. The doctor told Smith, a D.C. government worker, that he had probably been infected for at least a decade. Smith, now 39, says he doesn't understand how his disease had been missed. In the two years before the diagnosis, he had been treated in local hospital emergency rooms for pneumonia, for unexplained fever and for a deadly bacterial infection. Each time, he underwent countless tests as doctors tried to figure out why he was sick. Not once, he said, did anyone test for HIV. (Sun, The Washington Post, 7/21).

And they also look at what is being done to test and keep specific populations from contracting the virus or spreading it themselves -- to varying degrees of success:

In Washington, H.I.V. Testing Moves Beyond the Clinic
Angela Byrde, 27, is getting only the second H.I.V. test of her life -- at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Her situation exemplifies what is wrong with Washington's AIDS epidemic, and America's -- and what the nation's capital is finally doing to fix that. As a diabetic with Medicaid coverage, Ms. Byrde has seen doctors several times a year since she was 12, but they never suggested that she be tested, even though she lives in a city with one of the country's highest H.I.V. infection rates. Now the city, trying to find the estimated 5,000 Washingtonians who are infected but do not know it, is offering tests in grocery stores and high schools, on corners where addicts gather and even in motor vehicle offices. And it is paying people to take them. (The New York Times, McNeil, 7/20)

HIV Diversity in Immigrants Poses Challenge
People with HIV who were born outside the U.S. are more likely to be of Hispanic or Asian origin than native-born patients, researchers reported. They are also more likely to have acquired the virus through heterosexual contact, according to Irene Hall, PhD, of the CDC, and colleagues. Combined with other differences, the findings suggest that the HIV epidemic among immigrants has different epidemiological characteristics than among (U.S.-born) HIV-positive people, Hall and colleagues reported online in the Journal of the American Medical Association and at a media conference [in Washington, D.C.] before the opening of the International AIDS Conference. (Smith, Medpage Today, 7/22)

Drive to End AIDS in U.S. Stalls as Epidemic Grips Minorities
Monique Moree is the new face of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. The 31-year-old stay-at-home mom, who is black, was pregnant with her third child in 2005 when she found out she had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. ... While black men and women are 14 percent of the population, they accounted for 44 percent of 48,000 new HIV cases in 2009, the latest year for which definitive data is available, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infection rate in black men was more than six times that in white males, and black women were 15 times more likely to become infected than their white counterparts, the CDC data shows. (Armour and Langreth, Bloomberg, 7/23)

AIDS Fight Turns to Virtual Outreach
Four years ago, researchers at the University of Minnesota developed a sexually explicit, interactive gaming and information website called Sexpulse to educate gay men about safer sex and HIV. The provocative experiment came under fire from social conservatives, who called it government-supported gay porn and tried to kill its funding. But the project survived, and this week the team will present its research on HIV and social media at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., which featured remarks Sunday by former President George W. Bush and U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. ... As AIDS research enters its fourth decade, advocates are still seeking new tools to stop the disease and help its victims. (Hernandez, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/23)

Fewer Americans Suppressing HIV Virus, Study Finds
Fewer Americans than previously thought are controlling their HIV infections and potentially putting the public at higher risk, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University and University of Pennsylvania. The researchers found that there are tens of thousands of people -- particularly young adults, blacks, injection drug users and the uninsured -- that are not consistently suppressing their viral loads. Mostly, they are not adhering to their drug regimens. And when patients go on and off their medications, they can become resistant to therapy and put other people in greater danger of contracting the virus that causes AIDS. (Cohn, Baltimore Sun, 7/22)

Back to other news for July 2012

This article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.

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