Background on HIV/AIDS in the US

HIV is an epidemic, increasingly affecting more and more people each and every day. It is estimated that at least one American teenager is infected with HIV every hour of every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States. One in five (21%) of those people living with HIV is unaware of their infection.

HIV/AIDS is one of the fastest growing diseases worldwide. As attention has shifted in recent years from HIV/AIDS in the United States to the Global AIDS pandemic, the rate of infection of HIV in the United States has remained constant, though it has risen among minority populations, specifically women and the African-American community.

There still remains a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance around the issue of HIV/AIDS. HIV is a virus which can be transmitted only through blood, intravenous drug use though shared needles, sexual intercourse and through a mother to her unborn child. The virus cannot be transmitted through casual contact, such as kissing, using water fountains or public bathrooms. A person develops AIDS only when the HIV virus weakens the immune system to a severe degree, leaving it vulnerable to a host of other illnesses, such as pneumonia. However, the new combination of drugs being developed has considerably extended the period in which a person can live with HIV before it develops into AIDS.

While the number of new AIDS cases is declining, the number of people living with the HIV infection is increasing. This increased prevalence means that even more prevention efforts are needed. Individuals may be less concerned about becoming infected with HIV due to treatment advances such as protease inhibitors. However, the drugs do not work for everyone, and their long-term effectiveness is still undetermined. In addition, many cannot tolerate the side effects of the drugs or do not have access to the medications.
People living with the disease are still subject to discrimination and humiliation, and those who advocate for them still fight against decreasing budgets. Misinformation about how HIV is transmitted and who acquires it has contributed to a heightened sense of fear and has caused many extremists to believe that the government must take drastic steps to protect the uninfected. Unfortunately, these steps have been translated into a barrage of legislation which discriminates against people with HIV/AIDS and violates many of their civil liberties, including their rights to privacy, a healthy life, and full employment.

Impact on Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.  Blacks represent almost half (46%) of people living with HIV in the United States, as well as nearly half (45%) of the new infections each year. At some point in their life, approximately one in 16 black men will be diagnosed with HIV, as will one in 30 black women.

Hispanic and Latino Americans represent an estimated 17% of people living with HIV and 17% of new infections. The rate of new HIV infections among Hispanic/Latino men is more than double that of white men and the rate among Hispanic/Latino women is nearly four time that of white women.