Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H.
Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
The tide is finally turning against the HIV epidemic in the United States. However, this isn’t the time to stop. We can still do more.
In a sign of hope for efforts against HIV, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that the rate of HIV-related deaths in the United States fell by nearly half between 2010 and 2017. In 2017, 16,358 people with HIV died, but only 5,534 of those deaths were attributed to HIV-related causes.
Disparities in HIV-related death rates also declined: Although African Americans still had a higher death rate, the absolute gap between African Americans and whites fell by two-thirds, and by 2017 the HIV-related death rates for Hispanics/Latinos and whites were the same.
Much of this progress likely resulted from diagnosing people with HIV sooner and helping them to get — and stay on — lifesaving treatment. CDC and other federal agencies have played a role in this by supporting numerous activities for identifying HIV infections, initiating treatment as quickly as possible, and ensuring ongoing access to care. From 2010 to 2018, the share of people with diagnosed HIV who had a suppressed viral load (a measure of the amount of HIV in a person’s blood) increased from 46 percent to nearly 65 percent. This is critical because people with HIV who have an undetectable viral load live longer, healthier lives, and have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV.
Keep the momentum
Our job is far from done, though. We should continue to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, racial, ethnic, and other disparities in the incidence of new HIV infections, viral suppression, and mortality. It is unacceptable that thousands still die from HIV every year when effective treatment makes a normal lifespan possible.
That’s why the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative is so important. Launched last year, the initiative aims to reduce new HIV infections by at least 90 percent by 2030. Through this initiative, CDC and other federal agencies are providing new resources to expand HIV prevention and treatment efforts where they’re needed most. While COVID-19 has created new challenges, it hasn’t weakened our resolve to bring a swift end to the HIV epidemic. CDC-funded programs, including health departments and community-based organizations, have quickly adapted to this new environment — for example, by expanding the use of telemedicine and HIV self-tests. If we continue to adapt and build on what works, we will finally end the HIV epidemic.