The theme for World Aids Day 2017 on December 1 will be “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships.”
In elaborating on the theme Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State, said, “We now have the unprecedented opportunity to change the course of the pandemic. This brings with it the obligation to ensure that our resources are being used in the most efficient and effective ways and are having the greatest possible impact. Accountability and transparency are essential aspects of this.”
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) agrees with the sentiments of the World AIDS Day theme. We particularly find the theme’s emphasis on the term partnerships to be appealing and in line with social work values.
Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, NASW has embraced its responsibility of being a partner with governmental and non-governmental organizations in achieving the goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS worldwide.
We give recognition to World AIDS Day-2017 by committing to continue working to prevent new HIV infections by increasing awareness of HIV risks, eliminating racial and socio-economic disparities in risk of and in early detection of HIV infections.
For social workers worldwide, World AIDS Day provides the opportunity to remember that HIV/AIDS continues to be a pandemic that threatens people here in the United States and globally.
Here in the United States, we should be reminded that AIDS-related deaths have significantly decreased since the beginning of the pandemic. Much of the increase in life expectancy for persons living with AIDS can be a attributed to advances in viral suppression medications using Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) treatment protocols.
For example, between 2010 and 2013 the death rate for persons living with AIDS dropped by almost to 30 percent.
However, we must not let our guard down. There are still challenges confronting us. There continues to be a need for HIV prevention, testing, and early treatment intervention that targets racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups that are at high risk for HIV infection.
For example, African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV. Though African Americans represented 12 percent of the population, they account for 45 percent (17,670) of HIV diagnoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Similarly, Hispanics/Latinos represent 18 percent of the US population, but accounted for 24 percent (9,290) of HIV diagnoses during that period.
When we look at modes of HIV transmission, gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV. Again, using 2015 data, gay and bisexual men accounted for 67 percent (26,376) of all HIV diagnoses – and 82 percent of diagnoses among males. Of that number, African American gay and bisexual men had the largest number of HIV diagnoses (10,315) followed by white (7,570) and Hispanic/Latino (7,013) gay and bisexual men.
It is also troubling that there is an emerging threat of increased HIV infections because of the current opioid crisis. According to Politico, “The next HIV epidemic in America is likely brewing in rural areas suffering under the nationwide opioid crisis, with many of the highest risk communities in deep red states that voted for President Donald Trump.”
Public health officials express similar fears that the opioid health emergency could lead to a new HIV crisis. Users of opioids such as heroin sometimes inject the drug and share HIV-infected needles. It was the sharing of needles that led to an unprecedented HIV outbreak in rural Indiana in 2015.
Globally, the social work professional must continue to be outspoken and proactive in working to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We must insist on international public health policies that promote worldwide awareness of HIV risks; implements population-specific HIV prevention programs, makes available early medical intervention and immediate access to HIV prophylactics and HAART medication regimes.
Selected NASW Resources: