Although the so-called HIV/AIDS epidemic which officially began in the mid 1980’s has tapered off substantially, due to medical advances in detection and treatment, it nonetheless continues to pose a serious threat to communities spread across the United States, especially small, rural communities that lie outside of major U.S. cities. Basically, there are four specific areas of interest related to the significance of HIV/AIDS as a threat to public health and well-being–1), preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS; 2), caring for adults in a given community that are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus; 3), caring for children that are “living with parents who are ill” or who have already died from the disease, and “children who have HIV/AIDS themselves;” and 4), drawing the community together to help work toward solutions to the HIV/AIDS problem in relation to community public health (Introduction to Community Action on HIV/AIDS, 2013).
Past, Present, and Future Statistics
According to the AIDS.com website, maintained by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the number of Americans infected with the HIV/AIDS virus was very small in the early 1980’s, but since then, 1.7 million Americans are now estimated to be infected with the virus. This includes more than 619,000 Americans who have already died and “approximately 1.2 million adults and adolescents who were living with HIV/AIDS infection at the end of 2008.” As noted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “more than one million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.” as of 2012 with an estimated 20% being unaware that they are infected with the virus (U.S. Statistics, 2013).
However, due to advances in medical treatments for the virus, the number of Americans with HIV/AIDS remains relatively stable, but unfortunately, “new infections continue at far too high a level with approximately 50,000 Americans becoming infected” with the virus annually, due to a failure to practice safe sex via the use of condoms and remaining in a monogamous relationship (U.S. Statistics, 2013). Also, there are more children in the U.S. infected with the virus than at any time in the past which has been mostly attributed to receiving tainted blood transfusions. Of course, “gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are strongly affected and represent the majority of persons who have died” from the virus (U.S. Statistics, 2013). As to the future, as medical treatments continue to improve with current research aiming for a cure, the number of Americans infected with the virus will slowly decline; however, as is always the case, knowledge is power, meaning that Americans still need to be educated in order to reduce the number of HIV/AIDS cases and future infections.
HIV/AIDS and the Community
One of the most ambitious projects to date related to public health and HIV/AIDS is the HIV/AIDS Community Information Outreach Project, designed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services as a way to create locally-based programs for “improving HIV/AIDS health information access for patients and the affected community” as well as caregivers and the general public. The main emphasis is to offer knowledge and information on how to access treatment and other areas that are “meaningful to the target community.” This also includes increasing the awareness and use of the web-based NLM (National Library of Health) which provides health and medical resources to communities with HIV/AIDS infected adults and children (HIV/AIDS Information Outreach, 2012).
Another aspect is provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) which stresses that community mobilization for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling is of prime importance for all U.S. communities. This can be accomplished by encouraging community leaders, such as those in local governments and business leaders and owners, to openly discuss HIV/AIDS testing and counseling. One primary aim of this open discussion is to help people to understand that their behavior may place others in their communities at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS. Therefore, by encouraging the acceptance of HIV/AIDS as a threat to a given community, those who live within it will be able to mobilize as a team with the goal being to help lower HIV/AIDS infections and provide medical assistance and treatment to those already infected with the virus (HIV/AIDS Community Mobilization, 2013).
In addition, the financial impact of HIV/AIDS on a community can be quite devastating. For example, those who are already infected with the virus have great difficulty holding down a job which of course affects the economy of the community by decreasing the amount of money available for local purchases. It also affects the tax base of a community by lowering the amount of tax dollars that are used to pay for community projects.
Certainly, the future of public health in relation to HIV/AIDS all depends upon expanding access to treatment options which could effectively “reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates and alleviate health disparities,” such as between those who can afford treatment and those who cannot. This perhaps is the key, meaning that in the future, health disparities must be eliminated, ranging from “racial and ethnic disparities to sex and gender, sexual orientation, age, immigration status, and geographic disparities” (Community Ideas for Improving the Response to the Domestic HIV Epidemic, 2010) which not only help to increase HIV/AIDS infection rates but also the spread of the virus within a given community.
Community ideas for improving the response to the domestic HIV epidemic. (2010). White House Office of National AIDS Policy. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ONAP_rpt.pdf
HIV/AIDS community mobilization. (2013). World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/vct/toolkit/componentscommunity/en/
HIV/AIDS information outreach. (2012). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from http://sis.nlm.nih.gov/outreach/hiv_outreach.html
Introduction to community action on HIV/AIDS. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.etu.org.za/toolbox/docs/aids/community-action.html
U.S. statistics. (2013). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from http://aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/statistics