On the sixth annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we join with these communities in support of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. An estimated 15,100 Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2006, the most recent year for which data are available. To date, more than 3,000 people with AIDS in these communities have died. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH, joins Asians and Pacific Islanders in mourning those who have succumbed to this terrible disease.
To make progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS, we need to overcome the barriers to early HIV testing and treatment. At the end of 2006, nearly 30 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders with HIV did not know they were infected--more than any other U.S. racial or ethnic group. A delay in getting tested and starting treatment for HIV infection can jeopardize one’s health and increase the risk of spreading the virus, as untreated individuals with high levels of HIV are more likely to infect others than treated individuals. For these reasons, NIAID strongly endorses testing for HIV during routine medical care for adolescents, adults and pregnant women, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
In some Asian and Pacific Islander communities, the stigma of being infected with HIV may discourage individuals from learning their HIV status. I applaud those who are fighting this stigma by fostering compassion for and acceptance of people with HIV.
More than three-fourths of Asians and Pacific Islanders living with HIV/AIDS acquired the virus through sexual contact. This underscores the imperative to practice safer sex and the importance of developing biomedical tools to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. In this regard, NIAID supports research into the development of microbicides--creams, gels, foams or rings applied topically to the vagina or rectum to prevent HIV transmission; the testing of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an experimental strategy of using an antiretroviral drug regimen to protect individuals from HIV infection; and the discovery of a safe and effective HIV vaccine to prevent infection. In addition, NIAID will launch a study this summer to test the feasibility of a program for reducing the risk of HIV transmission in a community by lowering the amount of HIV in the bodily fluids of infected individuals through standards-based medical treatment.
On this commemorative day, I thank those who care for Asians and Pacific Islanders with HIV/AIDS, and I applaud the organizations and individuals who work to prevent the spread of HIV in these communities. I also thank those who work to overcome the stigma of HIV infection. Finally, I encourage Asians and Pacific Islanders--and, indeed, all Americans--to undergo HIV testing as part of routine medical care.
Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.