AIDS Pandemic in the United States
AIDS Pandemic in the United States — excerpts from the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS
Since HIV and AIDS were first recognized in the United States in 1981, AIDS has claimed more than 550,000 lives. While ARVs allow many individuals carrying HIV to live healthy, productive lives, serious challenges remain in addressing the AIDS crisis in the United States. The number of
individuals newly diagnosed with HIV annually — 56,300 — has remained constant since the late 1990s. As a result, the total number of individuals living with HIV and AIDS continues to increase; currently, about 1.2 million people are living with HIV or AIDS in the U.S. It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of those living with HIV or AIDS are not aware of their status, putting themselves and others at greater risk.
When first recognized in the early 1980s, HIV and AIDS most heavily affected gay men and was deemed a “gay men’s disease.” However, this epidemic now affects individuals in significant proportions of every age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and geographic region of the United States.
The African American community has startlingly high levels of individuals living with HIV. In 2006, 45 percent of individuals newly diagnosed with HIV were from the African American community, even though this community represents only 12 percent of the population. Black women comprise 66 percent of new AIDS cases among women and Black teens ages 13–19 accounted for 69 percent of AIDS cases among teens.
The epidemic in the African American community in the United States closely resembles the generalized epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, HIV prevalence for African Americans is greater than two percent. Furthermore, the Black AIDS Institute highlights several areas that are of predominantly African American population where the percentage of the population living with HIV or AIDS is at or above five percent. They note that in Washington, D.C., estimated HIV prevalence in the city is five percent — a rate that approaches the levels of infection documented in Uganda (5.4 percent) — and in Detroit, reported HIV prevalence is five percent or greater in nine ZIP codes. The Institute reports that across the United States, the total number of Black Americans living with HIV is greater than the HIV+ population of seven of the 15 PEPFAR focus countries.
HIV in the United States, as in the rest of the world, is closely linked to poverty and marginalization. Women in economically vulnerable situations are more likely to engage in higher risk sexual behaviors to feed themselves and their loved ones, which increases their risk of contracting HIV. A link has been found between homelessness and higher risk sexual behavior. The National AIDS Housing Coalition reports that “the conditions of homelessness and extreme poverty — the inability to maintain intimate relationships, pressures of daily survival needs, and substance use as a response to stress and/or mental health problems — leave homeless and unstably housed persons extremely vulnerable to HIV infection.” Persons who are homeless or unstably housed have “rates of HIV infection ... three to sixteen times higher ... [than] similar persons who are stably housed.” And among the prison population of the United States the prevalence of confirmed AIDS as reported by the CDC has been between 2.7 and 4.8 times higher than in the general U.S. population.
The reality of AIDS in the twenty-first century demands strong action. Indifference or a shallow response is not an option if the church is to be faithful to this calling. Donate today
to support a faithful response by the ELCA to HIV and AIDS.Learn more: Read the full ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS