June 22, 2009
"If we think of the AIDS pandemic as a global wildfire, the way that you fight wildfires is to identify the hot spots," says Michael Weinstein, President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The U.S. now has an exciting way to quickly identify those HIV hot spots: a brand-new online " HIV/AIDS Atlas" created by the National Minority Quality Forum.
The atlas promises to provide HIV advocates and policymakers with a powerful new tool in their efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in the areas of the U.S. that are most in need of services. It shows a vivid, graphic representation of HIV or AIDS rates by county in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Atlas reports information for more than 90 percent of U.S. counties.
"For the first time, communities can know their collective status and work to improve early diagnosis and routine testing efforts wherever it is needed most," said Dana Van Gorder, executive director of Project Inform, a San Francisco-based HIV advocacy organization, in a statement earlier this week.
The map was developed by the National Minority Quality Forum, an organization that has previously mapped diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in a similar fashion. The map offers options for viewing HIV or AIDS cases in a given area, both overall and broken down by gender, age or ethnicity.
The map is color coded, with dark green areas representing the lowest reported HIV/AIDS prevalence and dark red "hot spots" representing the highest reported rates. The data in the map are not new -- the numbers were reported by each state in 2006 and cross-checked with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- but the graphic aspect of the map provides a potent reminder that pockets of the country could be better reached with HIV services.
Among the hardest hit areas in the U.S., according to the new map, are the "usual suspects" of high HIV prevalence: dense urban areas such as San Francisco County and the counties that comprise New York City. However, the map provides starker evidence than ever before of a fact that HIV advocates in the U.S. South have been trying to draw attention to for a while: The HIV epidemic is raging in many southern states.
According to the map, of the 48 U.S. counties with the highest rates of non-AIDS HIV cases, 25 were located in Georgia. A visitor who clicks the "AIDS Cases" view on the map will see that Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia are heavily represented, showing high prevalence rates for advanced HIV (i.e., AIDS) diagnoses.
Maneuvering across the "virtual nation" with this new map can take some getting used to. A brief, informative how-to video is available on the map page to help viewers get started and get the most out of this resource. As an added bonus for activists, clicking on an area of the national map will generate a pop-up bubble with contact information for the U.S. Representative in that district, so advocates can waste no time contacting these individuals to demand that more services be brought to the "red counties" in the country's continuing HIV epidemic.
To learn more about this unique tool, browse through this FAQ.