National AIDS Awareness Month

October 21, 2008

This month, in recognition of National AIDS Awareness Month, we mourn the loss of 565,927 lives due to such a terrible disease and remind all Americans that the domestic AIDS crisis continues. The U.S. is mired in an urgent health care crisis as efforts in funding, prevention, and monitoring of the HIV/AIDS epidemic have failed to effectively curb infection rates, especially in communities of color.

Since 1988, when the U.S. Congress authorized the President to issue a proclamation observing "National AIDS Awareness and Prevention Month," Americans have joined with the government and AIDS service organizations to pursue appropriate programs and activities to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, because people with HIV/AIDS are living longer and fewer people are dying from the disease, public attention to the disease has waned and funding for outreach and education has not kept pace with the rate of new infections. Accordingly, during this 20th year of observance, we urge a renewed commitment and intensity in the battle against HIV/AIDS in the United States to bring an end to this epidemic in our lifetimes.

Today, there are approximately 1.1 million adults and adolescents living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, with 21% (232,700 total persons) unaware of their infections. Nearly half a million people in the U.S. (448,871) are living with AIDS. New prevalence estimates highlight a disturbing trend, showing that the disease continues to exact a devastating toll on minorities and the poor and indicating that much work remains to be done. African-Americans and Hispanics account for most of the country's new HIV/AIDS cases and deaths from AIDS-related causes. They are also the people least apt to receive proper medical care and treatment. At the same time, the government and AIDS services organizations have discovered that they must adapt and implement new and sustained efforts to reach a new generation of people at risk.

The Latest Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that African-Americans represent nearly half of all people living with HIV (46%) and that Hispanics account for 18% of people living with HIV, exceeding their respective percentages of the total U.S. population. The overall HIV prevalence rate for African-Americans is 1,715 per 100,000 and for Hispanics 585 per 100,000 compared to a HIV prevalence rate for whites of 224 per 100,000. While women made up only one-quarter of the people living with HIV (278,400 persons), the prevalence rate for black women is 1,122 per 100,000, approximately 18 times the rate for white women (63 per 100,000). The prevalence rate for Hispanic women is four times that of white women at 263 per 100,000.

The CDC also estimates that 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the U.S. in 2006, with 73% of such infections occurring in men. Although African-Americans constitute only 13% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 45% of the new HIV infections. Hispanics constitute 17% of new HIV infections but are 15% of the U.S. population. The CDC estimates that there were 37,852 cases in which HIV infections progressed to the full onset of AIDS in the U.S. in 2006.

These new estimates highlight that we have failed to reach at-risk populations with HIV testing, treatment, and prevention services. If we are to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in the U.S., all of us—government, communities, and the church—must reach out to everyone in need. As we commemorate National AIDS Awareness Month, we thank all of those who care for or volunteer and advocate for improved prevention, treatment, and research of HIV/AIDS. We further encourage all congregations in the Episcopal Church to commit to advocacy, action, and prayer in the effort to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United States.

What Can You Do?
You can help in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS:

  • Urge Congress to provide adequate funding for AIDS research, prevention education, medical care, and support services.
  • Get to know and work with the HIV/AIDS ministries and service providers within your church and community
  • Know the facts and help to educate young people about HIV/AIDS.
  • Don't put yourself or others at risk.
  • Get tested.
  • Talk about HIV/AIDS with your doctor, family, and friends.
  • Attend a local event dedicated to increasing awareness.
  • Provide support to people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Urge your parish to sponsor an AIDS education event or fund raiser with your local AIDS community group.

And be assured that in the next Congress, we will continue to urge lawmakers and the new President to implement funding and policies that place renewed focus on effective prevention and care services, increasing testing and awareness, and improving monitoring and assessments.