World AIDS Day

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Yesterday was World AIDS Day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there were more than 2 million new HIV diagnoses worldwide last year. In the U.S., most new cases of HIV occur among socially disadvantaged people, leading some researchers to characterize this disease as a “pandemic of the poor.” It is quite fitting, then, that the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-free Generation.”

To address the health disparities evident in the spread and treatment of HIV, we must share the burden of prevention. Too often, our focus is solely on the biomedical aspects of treating HIV. This of course is an important area, and the medical field has made incredible advances in antiretroviral therapies that allow people infected with HIV to live long, full lives. This is progress that cannot be undervalued. I certainly am not proposing that we should abandon the current efforts to find a cure for HIV or improve treatment of HIV. However, maintaining a narrow focus on medical research ensures that only people with regular access to medical care would consistently reap the benefits. We must place equal value on psychological and social research aimed at preventing HIV (obviously, I’m a bit biased in this regard). While a vaccine or cure for HIV would be wonderful, people will never get the vaccine if we don’t consider the social and behavioral factors that keep them out of health care from the start. Whether the barriers are related to education, financial resources, access to care, beliefs about the healthcare system, stigma, or other psychological factors, each can serve as a roadblock to receiving effective prevention or treatment. Thus, professionals in health care, social services, education, government, and many other fields have a shared responsibility to address the multiple factors that contribute to HIV infection.

If you are interested in reading more about HIV/AIDS or World AIDS Day, you can visit aids.gov.

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