January 19, 2011
Thirty years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and after decades of research disappointments, 2010 saw major breakthroughs that put scientific advances such as microbicides, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and vaccines within reach and created a favorable environment for other prevention and treatment efforts. In fact, some experts predict that over the next year, some of these discoveries could change the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic.
In this, the first in a two-part series, we examine five of the 10 major stories of 2010 and how experts expect them to unfold during 2011:
Historically, America's economic stability has been one of its greatest strengths; however, 2010 saw coffers continue to be depleted nationwide in federal, state and local government. The budgets of lifesaving AIDS service organizations and AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) continued to experience cuts, resulting in service reductions and longer waits for antiretroviral medications. With more than 5,000 people now wait-listed nationwide, the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are being jeopardized, as are decades of effort to contain the disease's spread.
What to watch: Experts say that 2011 will be better. Not only will President Obama enter the third year of his term -- the time frame during a president's tenure when the economy usually improves -- but economists predict that companies will begin hiring and consumers will start opening their wallets again. Some municipal and state governments, along with the federal government, should resume allocating monies to HIV/AIDS health programs.
After 20 years, the federal government has lifted its ban prohibiting HIV-positive people from traveling and immigrating to the United States. It also removed HIV from the nation's list of communicable diseases.
What to watch: This policy change clears the way for the International AIDS Conference, the world's largest scientific conference on HIV/AIDS -- which hasn't been hosted in the U.S. since 1985 -- to convene in 2012 in Washington, D.C. The country will gear up efforts to show that America not only can lead in HIV/AIDS research, programs and prevention, but also can end discrimination and stigma against PLWHA.
Being an injection drug user (IDU) or having unprotected sex with one has been the number two way that HIV has spread among Black Americans. In 2010 the ban prohibiting federal support for needle-exchange programs -- harm-reduction efforts that swap out IDUs' dirty needles for unused syringes -- was lifted. Not only does trading needles prevent HIV's spread, but IDUs with access to such programs also engage in less risky behavior.
What to watch: Syringe-exchange programs should receive more funding, a big step toward curbing the epidemic in Black communities.
The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act -- America's largest health-care overhaul since 1965 -- is the most important legislation benefiting PLWHA that Congress has ever passed. This legislation will help many Black Americans -- particularly those who have HIV/AIDS, are uninsured or underinsured, or otherwise lack access to adequate health care -- gain greater access to care and treatment.
What to watch: The Republican Party has vowed to repeal this legislation (which its members have pejoratively labeled "ObamaCare"), and with Congress' rightward shift, it could experience some success. The administration has stepped up efforts to prevent this from happening. Those in the Black HIV/AIDS movement will fight these efforts by educating newly elected officials about the epidemic in their districts and why it's in their best interest to get involved.
In July the Obama administration released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the U.S. government's first-ever plan for fighting the virus domestically. In theory, African Americans will become a priority as the government allocates resources to the "highest-risk populations" in order to reduce the annual number of HIV infections by 25 percent. Still, the initiative must be funded, and some say the highly anticipated plan doesn't do enough to address the crisis in Black America.
What to watch: We will learn how serious Washington is about the NHAS -- and about doing right by African Americans -- as accountability is established in all areas of government.
Ramon Johnson is the gay-life guide at About.com, part of the New York Times Company.