“We don’t have an Elizabeth Taylor promoting the cause any more. But that’s because the epidemic has largely shifted and it’s affecting low-income communities of color and people who inject drugs and who are facing mental health and addiction issues.”
New data from Boulder County Public Health shows that the number of people the number of people in Boulder County with HIV infections increased 219% in 2015, reaching the highest rate in five years. Robin Wood-Mason, Director of Development with the Boulder County AIDS Project (BCAP) says that means there were 16 new diagnosed infections of HIV in the County in 2015 “that is still significant largely because it is reversing a trend where in years past we’d been seeing rates drop quite significantly, so it raises a few red flags.”
60% of the diagnoses in 2015 were men who have sex with men and 37% of HIV infections in 2015 occurred among people of color. “That tells us that there is a lot more outreach that needs to be done in terms of prevention to make sure that folks have the prophylactics that they need in terms of condoms and safer sex materials.”
Wood-Mason says the increase in diagnoses underlies an overall problem of access to basic healthcare.
“The Latino community is disproportionately disconnected from basic medical care and that’s where a lot of the preventive screenings and those conversations with your doctor about how do you make healthy choices really happen.”
There are more late diagnoses in 2015, people who have been living with HIV for a while and just now accessing care “that is the population that is most likely to transmit. The real concern does come down to what are the social determinants and barriers to accessing that care. Are we able to get into the community centers and do HIV testing with BCAP staff and volunteers, or are the community clinics that people are accessing when they don’t have great health insurance or are undocumented and don’t feel comfortable being in that system – are those clinics doing HIV testing as universal best practice and that’s a huge factor in identifying these people early and getting them on treatment which is how you reduce the risk of transmission to others.”
None of the diagnoses in 2015 were from injection drug use which Wood-Mason says is due to the success of public health programs like needle exchanges.
While there is often a lot of media coverage on HIV infections in Africa, Wood-Mason says there needs to be ongoing awareness in the US “I think particularly in the US that as the face of the epidemic and the people who are newly acquiring HIV have changed, the interest in talking about it, particularly in traditional news media, has waned. When it’s a wealthy white gay man’s disease it’s really easy to throw a fancy benefit and pull in celebrities. We don’t have an Elizabeth Taylor promoting the cause any more. But that’s because the epidemic has largely shifted and it’s affecting low-income communities of color and people who inject drugs and who are facing mental health and addiction issues. That’s just not sexy anymore and it’s really sad that we’re losing that coverage and attention at a time when we could really make some advances and end the epidemic in the next 5-10 years.”
People who are unaware of their HIV status should speak to their medical provider about routine HIV testing, or call Boulder County AIDS Project at 303-444-6121.