HIV/AIDS Action Summit: ‘This epidemic is far from over’
Thanks to better screening programs and education about safer sex practices, the number of new HIV infections has dropped dramatically from the height of the epidemic — from more than 130,000 new annual cases in the mid-1980s to approximately 50,000 new annual cases today. But that number, combined with the fact that more than 1 million Americans are currently living with HIV, mean that the disease is far from eradicated.
"And that's why we are all here," said City of Hope Chief Medical Officer Alexandra Levine, M.D., M.A.C.P., at the seventh annual San Gabriel Valley Action Summit co-hosted with former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino. The Oct. 22 event at City of Hope had more than 300 attendees, including students from Duarte High School, Montebello High School and Blair High School's Health Careers Academy.
To highlight that this epidemic is still very much alive, Levine drew upon these grim statistics during her presentation:
- Each year, more than 18,000 Americans die from HIV/AIDS-related complications.
- For every two patients who begin treatment for HIV, five people are newly infected.
- A total of 39 percent of new HIV cases are among young adults (19 to 29 years old).
A major contributor to these alarming numbers is that Americans do not get tested regularly. Levine said that it takes approximately 10 years for an HIV infection to show symptoms, meaning that people who don't know their status have plenty of opportunities to spread the virus through unprotected sex or by sharing needles.
Thus, it is crucial to educate sexually active adolescents and adults on the importance of safe sex practices and regular testing. And in a panel discussion during the summit, Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley showed the attendees how to get the word out via social media, such as using the Vine video below.
Another panel discussion focused on health care reform, specifically what the implementation of the Affordable Care Act means for people living with HIV/AIDS. For starters, the act prevents the denial of health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions; it also includes a reduction in out-of-pocket expenses for medications and access to comprehensive health services, such as mental health and chronic disease management programs.
"We are here today to make sure no one has to waste away," said Portantino at the summit.
That includes both current and future generations.
Denise Heady contributed to this report.