CDC Announces that 19% of Gay and Bisexual Men are HIV-positive

CDC Announces HIV Prevalence Rates
The impact of HIV on MSM has been widely documented, but the results from the latest study that measures the prevalence and awareness of HIV among MSM in 21 major US cities still comes as a shock for many. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 19% of MSM in major metropolitan cities are HIV-positive, and 44% of these men are unaware of their infection (Smith, 2010).

Although these results are sobering to say the least, it’s important to put these numbers into context. An important thing to note is that these numbers are largely unchanged from the 2004-2005 report, which was the last time the CDC collected this data (Smith, 2010, p. 1203). This is in my opinion a victory in and of itself; we’re not losing the battle as the case may be, we’re just not winning it either. I’ll take a stalemate over a loss any day.

That being said, 19% is far too high a prevalence rate and we’ve got a lot of work left to do. This statistic means that if I were to randomly pick out five MSM from my group of friends, chances are that one of them is suffering from this disease. Try this out yourself. Picture five of your gay or bisexual male friends … and then pick one. This exercise is probably difficult for most people, because none of us want to imagine a friend suffering from this life-threatening and life-altering disease. But statistically speaking one of those five friends you just imagined is suffering from HIV, whether he knows it or not, whether he has shared it with you or not.
 
Awareness of HIV Status among MSM
That brings us to the second major part of these findings; that 44% of the men who were HIV-positive were not even aware of it. That’s almost half! Almost half of the MSM in major metropolitan cities in the U.S. who are HIV-positive don’t know it! As a public health professional, my knee-jerk reaction to this statistic is to launch a major “get-tested” campaign so that these men can find out their status and begin life-saving treatments. But in reality the problem runs deeper than this. Public health organizations have spent millions upon millions of dollars on campaigns like this and still the problem persists. So where do we go from here?

I believe that President Obama hit the nail on the head during his speech commemorating the launch of The National HIV/AIDS Strategy on July 13, 2010.

“When a person living with HIV/AIDS is treated as if she’s done something wrong, when she’s viewed as being somehow morally compromised, how can we expect her to get tested and disclose her diagnosis to others?” ~ President Barack Obama

You can see the speech here:

 

I Can’t Do This Alone
A friend of mine recently asked me to come with him to get tested for HIV. At first when he asked me to go with him, I told him that I was terribly sorry but I wasn’t available because I had made plans with an old friend that was visiting from out-of-town that day. He fell silent on the other line, and after a few seconds, spoke again. I’ll never forget what he said:

“Please come with me. You’re the only person I know who’ll still be there for me if the test comes out positive. I can’t do this alone.”

My heart absolutely broke when I heard this. Here is this incredible person, handsome, smart, who always seemed to have people around him. He always had a social event to attend, always attracted a lot of attention when we went out, and was the last person who I would ever think would be short on friends. And here he was telling me with utmost sincerity that I was the only person he knew that he was sure wouldn’t abandon him if he tested positive? This statement spoke volumes on the state of the stigma surrounding this disease. It’s so powerful that people would rather risk not knowing their status, than to lose their friends. For so many people it’s an either/or proposition. We’ve come so far bio-medically with this disease, but sometimes it seems we are exactly where we started when it comes to the stigma surrounding it.

I postponed my plans with the friend from out-of-town and went with him to get tested. I held his hand while we waited in the waiting room. I filled out the forms for him. I literally had to remind him to breathe. I told him that whatever happens, it was going to be okay. The absolute fear and panic in his eyes was so painful to watch. This is some disease, I thought. If the virus doesn’t kill you, the fear of it will.

Everything turned out fine for him that day and we became much closer because of the experience. But I will never forget that day because it reminded me of why I do the work that I do. Not only to eradicate this disease someday, but to eradicate the stigma around it until that day comes. Only then can we get everyone tested without fear of isolation, judgment, or abandonment. If everyone knows their status, I believe that we can defeat this disease. And one day when I picture five of my friends I won’t have to picture one of them suffering from HIV, because HIV will be a thing of the past.

I’d love to hear from you. What was your experience the last time you got tested? Are you surprised by the results of this study? Take the quick poll and leave your comments below.

Written by: David Nalos

References:

Smith, A., Miles, I., Finlayson, T., Oster, A., & DiNenno, E. (2010). Prevalence and awareness of HIV infection among men who have sex with men – 21 cities, United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 59(37), 1201-2107.

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