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Half a Million HIV-Positive People in U.S. Not in Regular Medical Care

July 9, 2004

Washington, DC -- The full U.S. Congress has just received Connecting to Care: Addressing Unmet Need in HIV, a new publication highlighting methods that successfully bring HIV positive people into care. Connecting to Care, published by AIDS Action Foundation in collaboration with the HIV/AIDS Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), includes findings from two years of research on ways to connect HIV positive people who know their status to medical care.

"At a time when the United States is taking a leading role in responding to the global AIDS crisis, we must ensure that we continue to address our domestic epidemic," stated Congressman Jim McDermott, M.D. (D-WA), Chair of the Congressional Task Force on International HIV/AIDS. "I am grateful to AIDS Action for its role in drawing our attention to the 'unmet need' in HIV and its impact on our nation's health. The outstanding work done by local organizations will ensure that all HIV positive individuals have access to care."

According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one million individuals in the United States are living with HIV. The CDC further estimates that among this population, 250,000 are aware of their HIV infection but are not receiving regular primary medical care, and another 250,000 do not even know they are infected with HIV. In other words, half a million HIV positive people are not in care.

The publication is part of a broader initiative by AIDS Action called Connecting to Care, which is designed to reinforce the domestic response to HIV by providing public health administrators, AIDS service organizations, and local health agencies with research, information, and success-proven interventions to connect HIV positive people to appropriate medical care.

"It is self-evident that the greatest domestic and foreign policy crisis of our times is the spread of HIV/AIDS," said Congressman Jim Leach (R-IA). "Caring for those living with the disease is a humanitarian imperative. While strides have been made in the area of care and treatment, there is to date no cure and work continues on prevention strategies. In these circumstances, providing access to quality care is critical."

It is a stated goal of the Ryan White CARE Act to bring HIV positive people into care, and the most recent reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act calls for the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to estimate the number of people living with HIV who are not in care.

"Connecting people to care helps to curb the spread of new HIV infections," stated AIDS Action Executive Director Marsha Martin, DSW. "HIV positive people who are in care, and thus receiving the education and support that should go along with medical services, are more likely to have healthier sexual practices."

In addition, HIV positive people in care are less likely to suffer from opportunistic infections and more likely to live longer, healthier lives. Upon connecting to care, people can learn about the different treatment strategies and explore nutritional and physical regimens that often complement antiretroviral therapy. Further, they can learn how to monitor their HIV viral load to prevent other health complications.

It is more cost-effective for health systems -- both in the U.S. and abroad -- to keep HIV positive individuals in primary medical care than it is to treat severe complications from HIV infections or emergency health conditions that develop when good health management is missing.

AIDS Action shared its Connecting to Care findings with Congress as health professionals and policy makers from around the world begin to gather in Bangkok, Thailand for the XV International AIDS Conference. The conference's theme is Access for All, and AIDS Action will contribute to this important theme by putting the workbook into the hands of numerous conference participants. Though the HIV pandemic is global in scale, it will be stopped community by community -- and in a variety of ways. The Connecting to Care workbook offers a fresh glimpse of how communities in this country have expanded access to HIV care, and the methods that made their efforts successful merit close examination -- around the globe and here at home.

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