Editor's Note: One month ago we observed National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day. As we look forward to 2019, we encourage you to revisit a blog post by Admiral Brett Giroir and Dr. Elena V. Rios on one of the major observances of the fall.
Fifteen years ago, the nation observed the first annual National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD). Since then, we've seen significant progress in the national and global response to HIV. This progress holds great promise for reducing new HIV infections and improving health outcomes for Latinos and all people living with HIV across the United States.
But Hispanics/Latinos continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. Although they make up only 18 percent of the population, they account for nearly 23 percent of the estimated 1.1 million people in the U.S. who are living with HIV. As is the case across all U.S. racial/ethnic groups, the majority are men who have sex with men (MSM).
Between 2011-2015, CDC data indicate a 13.9 percent increase in new HIV diagnoses among Hispanic/Latino MSM living in the U.S. (When the six dependent territories were included in the data, the overall increase was slightly lower, at 13.4 percent.) We are particularly concerned that those increases were concentrated among young Latino MSM between the ages of 13-34.
In response, we are focusing on approaches to HIV prevention that show strong scientific evidence of success. For example, we've known for a long time that people living with HIV who know their status, take HIV medication daily as prescribed, and get and keep an undetectable viral load can live long and healthy lives. Now we also know that these individuals have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners. Many people call this "treatment as prevention" or "TasP," and it's one of the most exciting developments for our response to HIV since the widespread introduction of antiretroviral therapy in 1996.
We also have medication, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or "PrEP," that protects people at high risk for HIV against infection. This once-daily pill is another new and powerful tool that holds great promise for decreasing the spread of HIV.
To realize the full potential of TasP, we must increase the percentage of Hispanics/Latinos who know their HIV status and are getting the treatment they need. Currently, CDC estimates that only 44 percent of young Latino MSM (ages 13-24) who are living with HIV are aware of their infection. In addition, only slightly more than 60 percent of Latino MSM living with HIV who are in continuous HIV care/treatment have achieved an undetectable viral load.
We also have to increase the number of people who use PrEP. A recent CDC study found that, between September 2015 and August 2016, only about 3 percent of the estimated 300,000 Hispanics/Latinos in the United States who could potentially benefit from PrEP filled prescriptions for it.
It will take many institutions, organizations, and individuals working together to lower the rate of new HIV diagnoses in Latinx communities. So it's fitting that the theme for this year's NLAAD observance is "Ending HIV is Everyone's Job."
The National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) is one of those organizations. NHMA advocates on behalf of 50,000 Hispanic physicians with the mission of empowering physicians to lead efforts to improve the health of Hispanics and other underserved populations. NHMA has advocated for policies to reduce HIV transmission through public health initiatives, improve health outcomes for individuals living with HIV, and reduce HIV-related disparities.
We encourage you to participate in ending HIV by learning more about HIV in Latinx communities and by checking out the resources available through NHMA's Partnering and Communicating Together (PACT) to Act Against AIDS Program page. You can also find NLAAD resources at HIV.gov.
Adm. Brett P. Giroir, M.D., is assistant secretary for health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Elena V. Rios, M.D., M.S.P.H, F.A.C.P., is president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association.
[Note from TheBody: This article was originally published by HIV.gov on Nov. 15, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]