Gay Americans let down in AIDs epidemic

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The USA is rejecting gay, black and poor communities in its response to AIDs, according to a health watchdog.

The report, published by the Public Health Watch HIV/AIDS Monitoring Project of the Open Society Institute (OSI), provides the first comprehensive analysis of how the United States is responding to the domestic AIDS epidemic and calls on the US government to step up prevention and treatment efforts.

It claims US efforts against the disease are uncoordinated, with no national plan for comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, and support, half the people in the US who need HIV treatment are not receiving it, and the number of new HIV infections in the US has not decreased in over a decade.

The document also highlights a lack of support for communities of colour, gay men and men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and the poor.

Chris Collins, author of the report, said: “America has no deficit of dedicated scientists, health care workers or prevention providers, but chronic rates of HIV incidence and inadequate access to care reveal a shocking level of systems failure.

“This is not the fault of any one president or Congress, but an ongoing shared responsibility. Still, this report shows that the federal government is becoming even less responsive to the growing needs of those most affected by the epidemic here at home.”

The report comes as the United Nations (UN) assesses whether member states are living up to commitments made in 2001 at the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS.

The US is reported to be siding with Muslim and Latin American countries in opposing measures in the proposal regarding condom distribution, drugs and homosexuality.

“Five years after the United States committed to reach those most vulnerable to HIV, we still see huge racial and economic disparities in infection rates,” said Public Health Watch director, Rachel Guglielmo said.

“Communities of colour, especially African Americans, women, gay men, injecting drug users, and the poor continue to bear the greatest burden of this disease. African Americans account for half of new HIV infections in the US, despite being less than 13% of the national population, and AIDs is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 24-34. These are not the signs of a strong national response to AIDs.”

The OSI report offers recommendations for improving the US response in HIV prevention and treatment to meet not only UN goals, but also those published by the US Centre for Disease Control, including a national stategy, addressing racial disparities, increased resources such as sexual education, and more research into treatments.

Mr Collins added, “There are many proud successes in the US response to AIDs globally, but when we look at outcomes here at home, it’s clear the country cannot afford to settle for such disappointing results.

“We must do better for our citizens.”

Dr Mark Dybul, acting US global AIDs coordinator said: “The American people are committed to stand with the people in these countries to support national strategies.

“We need to concentrate on the big picture issue of what needs to be done”

He said the US does not believe in “large-scale international targets.

“Countries need to be looking at their plans, their opportunities, and what they can do.

“Countries begin at different capacities, different levels, and are at different stages.

“It is impossible to ask countries that have much different capacities to achieve a certain level of access to treatment in the same four-year period.

“Everyone recognizes the importance of overcoming stigma and discrimination against women and young girls, and targeting men so they don’t behave badly. All of these are critical components of an effective response.

He welcomed targeting “vulnerable groups, generally and specifically,”

A UNAIDS report earlier this week called for better planning, funding and leadership to combat the worldwide AIDs epidemic.

A final UN declaration is scheduled to be announced today.