The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day: Metros Here And Abroad Beat Back HIV And AIDS

December 1, 2011

I always look for problems. As a policy analyst, I immerse myself in problems, try to determine how big, pressing, and interconnected they are, and then find or compare different ways to solve them.  But during Thanksgiving week, I stepped outside the sometimes dispiriting world of medical care policy to look on the brighter side. I found a bit of brightness in an unlikely place:  the new United Nations annual report on HIV/AIDS, issued last Monday. Here, it says, in year 30 of this terrible epidemic is hope in falling death rates for the third year in a row. Perhaps we have turned the corner.

The UN report covers international statistics. Closer to home, there are also glimmers of progress in US cities where AIDS has been so prevalent. This graph from the District of Columbia Department of Health publication shows rates of people “living with AIDS” in six major cities – Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC – between 2001 and 2005. The good news in these numbers is that people are living. Medical advances have helped turn AIDS into a chronic disease instead of an immediate death sentence.

Rates for People Living With AIDS in the District of Columbia, Compared to Other Cities

The news is even better if we look at the trends in new cases of HIV and AIDS. Since 2002, their number has been falling in Washington, DC, one of the country’s hardest hit cities.

Number of HIV/AIDS Cases and Deaths Among Adults and Adolescents - District of Columbia 2001-2006

Clearly, over 12,000 people living with AIDS in the nation’s capital is too many. But just as clearly,  DC and other cities are making headway against this scourge. A deeper understanding of the epidemic has allowed us to take steps to prevent infection and transmission. Needle exchanges have helped, as has a better understanding and broader acceptance of what epidemiologists call MSM, men sleeping with men, and of the women who sleep with these men.

Medical advances mean that you can live with AIDS; prevention means that don’t have to get it. Even though we know that now, the AIDS epidemic has yet to be tamed. But Thanksgiving week I felt thankful for the progress made so far and what that could mean in the coming years.

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