According to a new study published in the online edition of AIDS Estimates, nearly half (49%) of new HIV infections stem from individuals who are unaware that they are HIV positive. One fifth of HIV infections in the U.S. are undiagnosed.
The authors of this study stress that HIV diagnosis is not enough to reduce the number of new infections. Linkage and retention to treatment and successful viral suppression is also needed.
Data released from HTPN 052 in 2011 solidified previous studies which determined that an undetectable or low viral load reduces the risk of HIV transmission up to 96%.
Without treatment, experts estimate the rate of HIV transmission to be 1 in every 900 incidences of unprotected sex. HIV stigma has been long known as a barrier to HIV testing. Many individuals do not get tested for HIV for fear of ostracization from family, friends and society, as well as criminalization through non disclosure of their HIV status to sexual partners, thus increasing the risk of HIV transmission.
The Milton Hershey School’s refusal to consider an HIV positive 13 year old for admission to their boarding school based solely on the fact that he is HIV positive, along with several cases of individuals legally prosecuted and given long prison sentences for non disclosure of HIV status, has brought public opinion to the forefront as well as the need to reexamine the laws regarding HIV criminalization.
Although many in the developed world have moved pass the social stigmatization associated with HIV, the negative reaction of close to half who responded to several HIV legal cases has been an eye opener to the degree of stigma that still exists throughout the U.S. Comments on an NBC news story (http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/health/Hershey-School-HIV-Lawsuit-Boy-134802368.html#comments) of the Milton Hershey School discrimination case is a prime example of the state of HIV discrimination in the U.S.
With a clear link established between HIV stigma and discrimination and the reluctance of individuals to be tested for HIV and the knowledge that a significant number of new infections are associated with individuals unaware of their HIV status, governmental efforts to educate and a strict intolerance of HIV discrimination must be established in order to reduce the spread of HIV.
Author: Jeannie Wraight