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U.S. Launches Five-Year, $45 Million Domestic HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign

April 8, 2009

White House, HHS and CDC officials on Tuesday announced the launch of a five-year, $45 million campaign to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in the U.S, the Washington Post reports. The campaign, titled Act Against AIDS, aims to address complacency about the disease by informing the public that one person in the U.S. contracts HIV every nine-and-a-half minutes. Kevin Fenton -- director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention at CDC -- said the goal "is to put the HIV epidemic back on the front burner, on the radar screen." He explained the first phase of the communication campaign also will focus on reaching black communities, which are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS (Fears, Washington Post, 4/8). According to CDC, blacks represent 12% of the U.S. population but account for nearly half of new HIV cases and more than half of AIDS-related deaths each year (McKay, Wall Street Journal, 4/8). A separate phase of the campaign will target Latinos, who make up 15% of the U.S. population and 17% of new HIV infections. Melody Barnes, director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, added that HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C., is of concern. A recent report found that 3% of district residents are living with the disease. According to Fenton, an estimated one in five people in the U.S. who have HIV are not aware of their status (Washington Post, 4/8). CDC will provide funding for the campaign out of the agency's existing budget (Wall Street Journal, 4/8).

Act Against AIDS will promote HIV awareness through public service announcements, text messages and advertising on several modes of public transportation (Washington Post, 4/8). According to USA Today, the campaign also will include radio advertisements, airport dioramas, online banner ads, and online videos in English and Spanish (Sternberg, USA Today, 4/8). The campaign's Web site, also launched Tuesday, includes prevention information and provides users with HIV testing locations. According to CDC, the agency plans to work with the Kaiser Family Foundation to encourage major entertainment and media outlets to promote the campaign messages (Wall Street Journal, 4/8). "The media and entertainment industries are powerful forces in breaking through complacency and focusing national attention on important issues," Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said. The campaign also includes other community and public health partners from around the country, including national African-American groups, that will help spread message of Act Against AIDS (CDC release, 4/7). According to USA Today, the campaign aims to "recapture some of the urgency" from the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (USA Today, 4/8).

Fenton said that health officials "need to create a basic core awareness and a national dialogue" about HIV/AIDS (Wall Street Journal, 4/8). According to Barnes, the campaign's goal is "to remind Americans that HIV/AIDS continues to pose a serious health threat in the United States and encourage them to get the facts they need to take action for themselves and their communities" (Fox, Reuters, 4/7). Jeffrey Crowley, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said the administration will shape campaign messages based on "what works and what doesn't" for a national HIV/AIDS strategy. This strategy might include several initiatives that President Obama supports, including needle-exchange programs, contraceptive distribution and age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, USA Today reports (USA Today, 4/8).

However, some HIV/AIDS advocates have expressed concern that the campaign's approach will be inadequate. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said that of the more than one million HIV-positive people in the U.S., more than 300,000 have never taken an HIV test. Weinstein said, "A $45 million communications plan, no matter how well-intended, will do little to help identify those 300,000" HIV-positive people who unknowingly could be spreading the disease (Washington Post, 4/8). David Holtgrave of Johns Hopkins University said that an "investment of $9 million a year isn't going to reduce HIV" cases in the U.S. He said, "It's an important piece of the puzzle, but not the whole puzzle." According to Holtgrave, CDC's HIV prevention budget would have to increase to $1.3 billion annually from $800 million to reduce new HIV cases by 50%, potentially through initiatives such as large-scale counseling, testing programs, preventive services and programs targeting high-risk groups (USA Today, 4/8).

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