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First US National AIDS Strategy Aims to Cut New Infections

US President Barack Obama's administration released the nation’s first National AIDS Strategy in July that pledges to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 25% within five years. The 60-page report, which was prepared by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, also aims to increase access to care, optimize health outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS, and reduce HIV-related health disparities by reducing stigma and discrimination. The strategy also mentions the need to develop, evaluate, and implement a combination of effective HIV prevention strategies, including AIDS vaccines and microbicides, as well as strategic use of syringe exchange and expanded HIV testing to reduce HIV transmission rates.

Approximately 55,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV each year, an estimate that epidemiologists say has remained static for the past 15 years despite ongoing efforts to try to reduce HIV incidence rates. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are now more than one million people living with HIV/AIDS in the US, and that about 20% of them are unaware that they are HIV infected.

Mark Harrington, executive director of the Treatment Action Group, a New York-based AIDS research and policy organization, says he thought the US aim of reducing new infections by 25% within five years wasn’t nearly aggressive enough. “If we really did a good job, we could reduce infections by 50% and really make an impact,” says Harrington. “This is not a strategy to end AIDS; this is a strategy to manage AIDS.”

Judy Auerbach, vice president of Science & Public Policy at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, was one of the founders of the Coalition for a National AIDS Strategy that secured a commitment from Obama to develop such a plan when he was seeking the presidency. “It was striking, not just to Americans, but to the rest of the world that we did not have a singular plan,” says Auerbach. “So from my point of view, it’s really encouraging that it happened as quickly as it did.” —Regina McEnery