New Orleans, Louisiana —
Nearly 300,000 Americans are unaware they have HIV because they have never been tested according to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Julie Gerberding (pictured) told the United States Conference on AIDS, meeting in New Orleans, that despite 22 years of safe sex campaigns by health organizations across the country, too many people are in denial about being tested.
"In 1981, that would have been a tragedy, but in 2003 it's unconscionable," Gerberding said.
The number of people the CDC believes are infected but unaware has grown steadily over the past three years she said. It corresponds to a similar increase in the number of known cases.
"It's déjà vu all over again," Gerberding told the AIDS conference. As a young doctor in San Francisco two decades ago, Gerberding was on the front lines treating some of the first American AIDS patients.
She said that part of the reason for the jump in HIV/AIDS cases is a perception, especially among younger gay men, that AIDS is now a controllable disease as a result of new drugs. They don't see the need to get tested if they don't show any symptoms she said.
"They haven't been faced with seeing their friends die," she said.
The other group in which there is a marked increase in the number of cases is African Americans. Many African American men who have sex with men are afraid they will be perceived as gay if they test positive, so they shun taking the test.
Nevertheless, Gerberding said the key to controlling the advance of AIDS is simpler testing methods.
CDC has switched direction from emphasizing safe sex to promoting tested. Gerberding said the newly approved 20 minute tests are a major step forward.
The goal, Gerberding said, is to cut the number of new infections in half during the next five years, from 40,000 people a year to 20,000.
But, while lauding the CDC goal in reducing the number of new infections the shift in emphasis has not pleased many in the AIDS care field. AIDS groups like San Francisco's STOP AIDS are seeing funding cuts. The organization, most of which target the gay community, blame pressure from conservative Christian groups and right wing Republican members of Congress for exerting pressure on the CDC to chop programs that teach safe sex methods to gay men.
This article originally appeared on 365gay.com. Republished with permission.