Over the last 30 years, men who have sex with men (MSM) have been disproportionately affected by HIV. We have come a long way from the 1980s and 1990s when HIV was considered a death sentence and even by some called “GRID” or gay-related immunodeficiency. More recently, public health has made great strides toward ending the HIV epidemic, but Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day should remind us that more needs to be done to end the HIV epidemic. Westat’s commitment to supporting efforts to ending the HIV epidemic is evident through the work being done for our clients.
Overview of Today’s Challenges
HIV continues to disproportionately impact gay and bisexual men today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 2 (50%) Black MSM, 1 in 4 (25%) Latinx MSM, and 1 in 11 (9%) of White MSM will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. That is, the epidemic goes beyond HIV and should encourage us to find innovative ways to work together to address issues around HIV at the intersection of racism, sexism, and stigma.
While HIV is still a health threat for gay and bisexual men across the U.S., the rates and numbers only tell us part of the story and should be elucidated to get to the core of the problem. In today’s climate with COVID-19 and monkeypox (MPX), it is essential that we take action to reduce the burden of HIV and disease among gay and bisexual men. More than ever before, this is the time to unite to create opportunities to improve testing efforts and build trust between the health care system and MSM communities across the U.S.
The social impact of COVID-19, MPX, and HIV on MSM communities has more recently created an environment where so many feel alone and isolated. This is especially true for MSM of color, MSM who live in poverty, and MSM who are challenged by mental illness, who in addition, deal with stigma based on their race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and HIV status on a regular basis. To further address social determinants of HIV, we must create suitable pathways to build alliances across our nation and fund efforts to build networks with those organizations that are working to end HIV from a holistic perspective with a focus on enhancing the lives of gay/bisexual men.
What Westat Is Doing
Through Westat’s work in support of CDC’s the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign, we connect with communities across the country to raise awareness and provide valuable information about HIV. For National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the campaign promoted a social media toolkit for this audience highlighting the importance of testing, treatment, and prevention as well as providing resources for the MPX outbreak that is disproportionately affecting this community.
Westat is also working to end HIV by convening staff-led working groups to identify opportunities to further the initiatives of our federal and academic partners. We have previously conducted outreach and programming on various topics relevant to our work and the work being done in the community. We seek subject matter experts and other figures to provide their perspectives to enhance our work.
A Call to Action
There is a role for everyone in the goal to end HIV. The Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative seeks to reduce new HIV infections by at least 90% by 2030. This initiative implements a 4-part strategy:
- Diagnose all people with HIV as early as possible
- Treat people with HIV rapidly to achieve viral suppression
- Prevent new transmissions by using proven interventions
- Respond quickly to potential HIV outbreaks to deploy resources to those who need them
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will leverage its operational divisions to drive the aims of this initiative—Westat stands ready to provide our expertise to support these goals.
Contributed by Tony Johnson, PhD, and Aemon Weaver, MPH, both of Westat’s Public Health & Epidemiology Area.
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