Sunday, December 02, 2007

HIV/AIDS In Light of Numbers

Yesterday, December 1st, was World AIDS Day, and in conjunction with that two new studies have been released. The first is a worldwide "oops", as the United Nations has acknowledged that it has overestimated the cases of HIV/AIDS by approximately 6 million people. (That's more than the population of New Zealand, and only slightly less than the population of Switzerland.) New infection rates are also down, to 2.5 million a year, and India's infection rate has been estimated at half its previous numbers.

But while the new numbers suggest both that the UN needs to revise how it's running its numbers, and that prevention strategies have been effective, the numbers for the United States are more grim.

The CDC has moved from an informal tracking of HIV/AIDS infections to a more accurate assessment, and in the process, discovered that infection rates in the States is much higher than previously thought. How much higher is up for debate, since the CDC has not yet released the figures from their new study; the official word is patience until their papers have been peer reviewed.

According to the NYTimes, the new assessment involves
two different blood tests of H.I.V. antibodies — the first indication of an infection. One test is highly sensitive and is able to spot an infection even in its earliest months. The other test is cruder, and patients must nurse an infection for many months before it can be identified with this test.

When a blood sample receives a positive result on the first test and a negative result on the second, officials have decided that this person was probably infected recently. By adding up these mixed results and projecting them across the country, the agency is able to come up with an estimate for new infections.
And while the numbers haven't been released, everyone seems to agree on one thing - the numbers will go up. Of course, the question then becomes why have the numbers increased - are there actually more cases of infection, or are the more sensitive tests combined with reporting both HIV and AIDS cases (when previously not all states reported positive HIV tests, only active AIDS cases) showing a more accurate picture?

Either way, one thing is certain - prevention efforts are not proving as effective as they could be in the United States. Unfortunately for us, HIV/AIDS prevention is a highly political issue, not just in finances, but in what's taught. We know that the best prevention education focuses on a combination of increasing condom use, decreasing sexual partners, and general education both about sex and infectious disease. In light of the numbers, showing decrease due to education, or increase because of a reinterpretation of numbers, we owe it to ourselves, to everyone, to accurately educate and contribute to preventing the spread of this infectious disease.

Just because HIV can be treated as a chronic condition - wonderful news for those already infected - does not mean we should decrease our efforts at prevention.

1 comment:

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