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The Disproportionate Impact of HIV in America

HIV is a serious public health issue—one that disproportionately affects certain groups of Americans more than others.

HIV is a serious public health issue—one that disproportionately affects certain groups of Americans more than others.

Medically reviewed in April 2022

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a chronic viral infection that can infect and destroy several different types of cells in the immune system.

If left untreated, the virus will weaken the immune system until the body can no longer fight off infections and disease—eventually leading to a condition known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Without treatment, the majority of HIV infections are fatal, usually within 8 to 10 years. With treatment, a person with HIV can live a long and healthy life.

HIV is a serious public health issue—one that disproportionately affects certain groups of Americans more than others.

What Americans are at a greater risk of HIV?
Anyone can become infected with HIV, but certain people in America are at a higher risk. This includes Black Americans, Latin Americans, and people in the LGBTQ+ community. According to data from 2019:

  • Black Americans made up 13.4 percent of the country’s population, but accounted for 42.1 percent of new infections.
  • Latin Americans made up 18.5 percent of the country’s population, but accounted for 21.7 percent of new infections.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, Black women in America had an incidence of HIV that was 11 times greater than white women and 4 times greater than Latin women.

Men who have sex with men represent 2 percent of America’s population, but they account for roughly 66 percent of new cases in a given year. Black and Latin American gay and bisexual men are at the greatest risk. According to the CDC:

  • Black gay and bisexual men make up 26 percent of new infections.
  • Latin American gay and bisexual men make up 23 percent of new infections.

Transgender people also carry a disproportionate burden of HIV cases. Although only a fraction of a percent of the United States population identifies as transgender, 2 percent of new HIV infections in 2019 were among transgender people.

What’s being done to help
The reasons for these disparities are varied. Economic instability and a lack of social support play a significant role. Stigma around discussing HIV and related topics is another factor. Decreased access to HIV screening, other healthcare, and health education—for example, education about how sexually transmitted infections spread and who is at risk—are additional factors.

The federal government in the United States has recognized the higher burden of HIV and AIDS among these populations, and they have outlined a plan of action in the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. campaign.

The four key strategies of the federal plan are:

  • Diagnose all people with HIV as soon as possible. Early detection is crucial to successful treatment and preventing the spread of HIV. Federal and local agencies are working to increase access to testing, especially in at-risk communities. As an individual, you can encourage friends and loved ones to get tested. Encouragement from peers is an effective strategy to increase testing.
  • Treat people with HIV rapidly and effectively. HIV medications need to be started as early as possible. There are an estimated 250,000 people in the U.S. who are aware of their HIV infection but are not receiving any treatment. Bringing this number down requires greater engagement from both the medical community and the social community at large. If you know someone who has HIV, encourage them to seek treatment and stick with treatment.
  • Prevent new HIV transmissions. In addition to traditional safe-sex practices (such as condoms), there is a medication that can reduce a person’s risk of contracting HIV. This medication is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and is taken as a pill. The federal government and pharmaceutical companies have worked to make PrEP available at no cost or at a discounted cost. Unfortunately, fewer than 25 percent of people at high risk of HIV infection take PrEP.
  • Respond quickly to HIV outbreaks. New scientific methods can chart where HIV is spreading rapidly. Identifying where and when HIV is spreading can guide resources to at-risk and underserved communities where they can do the most good.

Great strides have been made in the fight against HIV, but this progress has yet to reach many of those who need it most. Consider sharing this article with others—it can help spread awareness about HIV, and it may even encourage someone to get tested or seek treatment.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About HIV.
BeInTheKnow.org. Understanding HIV and AIDS.
Mayo Clinic. HIV/AIDS.
Shelley A. Gilroy. What is the prognosis of untreated HIV infection? Medscape. Aug 20, 2020.
HIV.gov. What Is the Impact of HIV on Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the U.S.?
HIV.gov. U.S. Statistics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV Surveillance Report Supplemental Report. Estimated HIV Incidence and Prevalence in the United States, 2015–2019. Vol. 26, No. 1.
Jannette Berkley-Patton, Kathy Goggin, Robin Liston, and Andrea Bradley-Ewing. Adapting Effective Narrative-based HIV Prevention Interventions to Increase Minorities’ Engagement in HIV/AIDS Services. Health Communication, 2009. Vol. 24, No. 3.
R. Andersen, S. Bozzette, et al. Access of vulnerable groups to antiretroviral therapy among persons in care for HIV disease in the United States. HCSUS Consortium. HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study. Health Services Research, 2000. Vol. 35, No. 2.
HIV.gov. What Is Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.?
HIV.gov. About Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.
K. E. Stewart, L. R. Cianfrini, J. F. Walker. Stress, social support and housing are related to health status among HIV-positive persons in the deep south of the United States. AIDS Care, 2005. Vol. 17, No. 3.
Jannette Berkley-Patton, Kathy Goggin, Robin Liston, and Andrea Bradley-Ewing. Adapting Effective Narrative-based HIV Prevention Interventions to Increase Minorities’ Engagement in HIV/AIDS Services. Health Communication, 2009. Vol. 24, No. 3.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis.

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