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|Gay community must re-energize fight against HIV|
|by Kevin Fenton|
|October 01, 2010 00:00|
On Sept. 27, we commemorated the third annual National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an opportunity not only to reflect on the impact HIV has had on gay and bisexual men in the United States, but also an opportunity to act.
President Obama recently released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy that prioritizes the needs of gay and bisexual men as a group that continues to be hard-hit by the disease, and the message is clear — we must re-energize the fight.
Although it has been nearly 30 years since the first reported cases of HIV among gay and bisexual men, HIV remains a crisis that is far from over in this community.
In fact, the number of new HIV infections each year is increasing among men who have sex with men (MSM), while remaining stable or declining in other risk groups. Currently, MSM account for nearly half of the more than 1 million people living with HIV in the United States.
We see HIV in all corners of the gay community, regardless of race or age, and yet many still do not know they are infected. The CDC recently released the results of a new study which confirms that HIV remains a serious health threat among gay and bisexual men in many of America’s major cities.
The study found that among MSM in 21 U.S. cities that have been hit hardest by the epidemic, 1 in 5 (19 percent) were HIV-infected and nearly half (44 percent) of those men were unaware of their infection. Young MSM and MSM of color were particularly affected and least likely to know their HIV status.
Fear, complacency and stigma
While the numbers are stark, we cannot allow gay and bisexual men to believe that HIV infection is inevitable, and we must also confront a host of other factors that put gay and bisexual men at particular risk for HIV.
We must confront fear. Many men do not get tested and retested because they are afraid of what they might learn. Finding out you have HIV is hard, but not knowing is even worse and puts your life and others’ lives at risk.
We must confront complacency and will also need to bravely face up to difficult, uncomfortable topics, such as homophobia and discrimination, which cause some men to not put enough value on their lives and on their future.
And we must confront stigma. Homophobia and discrimination can also stand in the way of too many gay and bisexual men seeking and receiving appropriate HIV prevention services, testing, and care.
At CDC, preventing HIV among MSM of all races is one of our top priorities. Not only is HIV prevention among MSM a central part of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, but the President’s FY2011 budget proposes a new CDC initiative to integrate HIV prevention as part of a more holistic approach to gay and bisexual men’s health.
We also announced a multi-million-dollar three-year expansion of our HIV testing initiative, which will allow us to reach more MSM with HIV testing. We have ongoing research trials examining new approaches to HIV prevention.
We need your help
But we can’t do it alone. We need an invigorated response from every community. In the early years of the epidemic, the gay community banded together to rally for information, resources and research. This strong early commitment changed the course of the epidemic and drove down the number of new infections.
Today, we confront some of the same challenges faced by those early advocates, such as increasing infection rates among MSM. We also confront new challenges, such as complacency toward infection. We must reinvigorate our response.
We need African-American and Latino leaders to ensure that HIV prevention among gay and bisexual men is a core component of broader strategies for addressing HIV in their communities. Health departments and community-based organizations must prioritize the needs of MSM in funding and program decisions.
And finally, we need gay and bisexual men themselves to be active participants in the health of their community. We need people to take action to ensure their own health and to be a positive force for change in the lives of their partners, friends and community.
We cannot forget that the fight against HIV in the United States is far from over. We all need to do more. Everyone has a role to play. If we re-energize our fight, together we can reverse the tremendous burden of HIV on the gay community.
Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D., is director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
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