The idea that HIV affects people living in the southern US far worse than their neighbors to the north is not new. Back in 2008, a report grabbed headlines by showing that the rate of infection in some pockets of the country rivaled that of the most heavily affected parts of Africa.
So now, even though the notion of this disparity within the US comes as no surprise, it’s hard not to be struck by the stark contrast as visualized by the AIDSVu map, a project launched online yesterday by Emory University and its affiliated Rollins School of Public Health, both in Atlanta. The interactive image is based on 2008 data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Knowing the areas most affected by HIV is critical for meeting the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which calls for significantly reducing new HIV infections and improving care for people living with HIV,” Emory epidemiologist Patrick Sullivan said in a statement.
To achieve those goals, some of the regions in the US hardest hit by HIV have taken aggressive measures in recent years. Washington, DC, for example, last year offered free testing when individuals renewed their drivers’ licenses. And in late 2009, the federal government added HIV testing to its Medicare health plan, which covers individuals over the age of 65.
That said, access to testing remains far from perfect. However, a bill introduced by Democratic House Representative Alcee Hastings, known as the Increasing Access to Voluntary Screening for HIV/AIDS and STIs Act of 2011, aims to turn things around. The bill proposes rules to ensure that health care plans “provide coverage for routine HIV/AIDS and STI screening under terms and conditions that are no less favorable than the terms and conditions applicable to other routine health screenings.”
Last year, when an HIV-testing initiative revealed the extent to which people do not know their HIV status, the take home message was summed up by Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention: “Testing is key to ending the US HIV epidemic,” he said. For the AIDSVu map to change, his advice needs to be taken seriously.