HIV/AIDS: The Future Looks Promising, but What About Now?


After years of disappointing trial and error, a vaccine shows success in a clinical trial in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Granted, the trial shows a less than one-third success rate. Compared to the 85 percent success rate of the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine, that’s quite low. Yet it clearly is the most promising success to date , and we can only hope that it soon leads to a workable vaccine that that immunizes against the HIV/AIDS virus.  But what until then? Each year, in the United States alone there are 1.1 million people living with HIV and it is estimated that someone in the U.S. is infected every 9 and a half minutes. Even under the best conditions, the optimistic view is that it will take at least three years before a HIV vaccine is available in the United States. What can be done to help those who have the disease now? Is the American public ready to act?

Actually, a lot–though it seems most Americans remain unaware of this. As a researcher for Public Agenda, a non-profit non-partisan research and public engagement organization in New York City, I have had the opportunity to study both what could be done today to reduce the effects of HIV/AIDS transmission and increase treatment and to see what the public thinks of these ideas. The gap between the solutions that HIV/AIDS experts push for and what the public understands about how to address the AIDS epidemic is wide indeed.

When we spoke with experts about what can be done to address AIDS in America, we heard many different solutions. Some experts focused on prevention (targeted education messages to at-risk populations for example). Others talked of ways to increase access to HIV testing (such as providing it for all patients admitted into an ER, for example) and ways to increase access to treatment. Some talked about solutions focusing on what some experts saw as the underlying social reasons why certain populations, including African-Americans, Hispanic/Latinos and gay men of all ethnicities, are disproportionately affected by the disease, including addressing disparities in the health care system and providing social networks to combat the stigma and isolation that many who are HIV positive may face. Are these solutions viable? Will the public support funding for them? Unfortunately, we just don’t know. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in April of this year, half of Americans support increased funding to address HIV/AIDS in the United States. That sounds promising, but 45 percent say they had ”seen, herard or read” “little” or “nothing at all” about HIV/AIDS in the United Statesin the past year. In focus groups Public Agenda conducted on HIV/AIDS in the United States, the lack of awareness of the issue was pervasive7. Many participants said they were not sure how serious a problem this was any more in the United States. Outside of New York City and Los Angeles, the two cities in the study that had a high incidence of HIV/AIDS cases, few others had any conception of how much this disease has ravaged areas of the country and minority communities. But, in discussion, participants became more engaged and began to question why more was not being done, even as they were unaware of the different proposals that experts recommended. A self-described fiscal conservative in Birmingham summed up his feeling about supporting more funding by saying, “…you can pay now or pay later. I’d rather pay for it on the front end of it and have people tested and make sure that would somehow be defraying higher costs down the road.”  There are many good ideas out there that may indeed curb the spread of HIV. Until a vaccine becomes available, there will also be many more infections in the ensuing years. The public is ready to discuss measures that may only be needed in the short-term, but every day they are not addressed is another day more people become infected. With our health care system at the center of public debate, now is the time to have a national conversation about what can be done right now to address the issue and see where the public really stands on this issue.

Jonathan Rochkind is the Vice President and Director of Research at Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization.

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5 replies »

  1. Bueno visita este sitio son unas personas maravillosas y son seropositivos vih sida y además nos enseñan noticias hacerca de este virus, es un buen grupo, es una institución que a un bajo costo, te dan mucha felicidad,
    Acude a y veras como de solo hablar con estos seres maravillosos encuentras paz. Por que son personas que te entenderan y compartiran contigo las ganas de seguir viviendo.

  2. What a great article. I just read a similar article about an HIV study done by the Division of Reproductive Health at CDC. The results of this study and essays like yours NEED to be presented to as many people as possible. Some of the stats are eye popping! Anyhow, keep up the great work. “Experience with anal intercourse was reported by 33% of participants. The median age of the first anal intercourse experience was 17 years old. Amazingly, 67% reported never using a condom for any anal intercourse experiences in the past six months”. Crazy!
    i found the article here

  3. This article is inspirational, hearing there is a vaccine that is 1/3 affective is progress. My uncle lost a best friend a few months ago to aids and ever since I have been very interested on researching the progress of a cure. I feel this is a great article very informative. This should most defiantly be a national conversation I couldn’t agree more, it absolutely needs to be addressed.

  4. This is a very interesting blog article. I had no idea that they’ve found a vaccine that shows some success in a clinical trial. Granted, there’s only a 1/3 success rate, there is some progress being made. That is great news.
    However, you do make a good point about the present. So many people are affected and more will become affected before an effective vaccine is eventually found. I think you’re right in saying there should be a national conversation because HIV/AIDS is still an issue and needs to be continuously addressed.