To end the HIV/AIDS pandemic, communities must commit to improving access to early diagnosis and treatment.
Each year, the first day of December is observed as World AIDS Day by the World Health Organization (WHO). The day also reminds me of the influence of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) on my own journey in medicine and public health.
As a medical student, when I first learned of the disease, I was fascinated by how the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infected the body, its effects on it and how treatment worked. As my clinical training progressed, I was deeply struck by how the disease affected individuals’ lives and marginalized segments of society. The course of no other disease in modern times was fundamentally affected by activism of affected communities and their loved ones. And so for today’s post, it felt timely to throw light upon this year’s theme: Let Communities Lead.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic
As of 2023, WHO reports that around 40 million people were lost to HIV/AIDS and some 39 million people live with HIV/AIDS as of 2022. This pandemic looks very different from one part of the world to another or from one community to another. That makes this year’s theme very apt: to end this pandemic, we must acknowledge that each affected community needs to lead its own response.
The burden of disease today is heavily skewed towards sub-Saharan Africa. However, even within other parts of the world there remains persistent geographical inequity. Closer to home in the United States, the South hosts the largest number of people with HIV but rates of infection are higher in the Northeast. As of 2021, two in three new infections in the United States are through sexual contact between men. In the same year, communities of color accounted for a majority of new infections, with about 40 percent of infections among black communities and 29 percent among Hispanic communities.
How communities can lead
A key tenet of letting communities lead is the motto “Nothing about us without us.” Any plan to end the pandemic must ensure that community leaders are involved in every stage. Unfortunately, there remain many barriers to such effective participation.
At Primary.Health, we also believe in empowering communities to improve their health, as evidenced by our work with community-based organizations (CBOs) across the country. To end the HIV epidemic, we need people getting diagnosed early and receiving effective treatment. This is particularly important because being on effective treatment lowers the level of HIV virus to a point where someone is no longer at risk of infecting others.
Home-based testing is key to improving access, alongside expedited provider access to begin treatment. As we observe this year’s World AIDS Day at Primary.Health, we welcome partnerships to let communities lead!
Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.