NEWS

CDC: New HIV cases in the U.S. Are Dropping–But Not for All

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Key Takeaways

  • HIV cases are dropping in White gay and bisexual men, but not for Black or Hispanic gay and bisexual men.
  • Research has also found disparities in access to preventative care and treatment.
  • Experts say systemic changes are needed to reduce the overall number of new cases.

A new government report has found that new HIV infections have fallen by 8% over the last decade. But that decline was seen among White gay and bisexual men. Cases have stayed consistent among Black and Hispanic gay and bisexual men.

The December report, which is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vital Signs, found that from 2010 to 2019, the number of new HIV infections remained relatively stable in Black (from 9,000 to 8,900) and Hispanic (from 6,800 to 7,900) gay and bisexual men. However, cases declined significantly for White gay and bisexual men (from 7,500 to 5,100).

The report found that Black and Hispanic men were less likely to be diagnosed with HIV, undergo treatment to suppress the virus, or use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent it, compared to White men.

The data specifically show that, in 2019, an estimated 83% of Black and 80% of Hispanic gay and bisexual men with HIV had received a diagnosis, compared with 90% of White gay and bisexual men. In 2017, they found that just 27% of Black and 31% of Hispanic men were using PrEP, compared with 42% of White men.

“Throughout my career, I have witnessed a transformation for those living with and at risk for HIV,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, said in a statement. “We have the scientific tools to end the HIV epidemic, however, to achieve this end we must acknowledge that inequities in access to care continue to exist and are an injustice. We must address the root causes of these ongoing disparities and make proven HIV prevention and treatment intervention available to all.”

Why Do These Disparities Persist?

The researchers cite HIV-related stigma—negative attitudes and beliefs about people with HIV—as contributing to these disparities.

For the study, the team gathered data from the Medical Monitoring Project, a nationally representative survey of people diagnosed with HIV. The data shows that Black and Hispanic gay and bisexual men were more likely to report experiencing HIV-related stigma compared to White gay and bisexual men.

They specifically found that, on a scale of zero to 100 (with zero being no stigma and 100 being the highest), the median score for Black and Hispanic men was 33 and 31, compared with 26 for their White counterparts.

Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Verywell he is not surprised by the data. "There have been strong efforts to increase awareness, linkage to care, and prevention but this has not been uniform," he said.

Sarahmona Przybyla, PhD, MPH, director of undergraduate public health programs in the school of public health and health professions at the University at Buffalo, agreed.

“For quite some time, we have seen troubling trends not only in HIV incidence disparities but also inequities in HIV prevention, treatment, and care, particularly among racial and ethnic minority populations in the United States,” she told Verywell.

Disparities exist in access to HIV prevention and care, Przybyla said, pointing out that people can only get an HIV diagnosis when they’re tested.

“Many individuals at risk for HIV acquisition may not be seeking out testing,” she said. “Therefore, it’s plausible that the decline in cases represents only identification of some, but not all, cases.” 

Access to care for testing and treatment can be fraught for Black and Hispanic men.

“These findings are indicative of greater systemic and structural inequities that have plagued Black and Hispanic folks throughout history,” Kristen D. Krause, PhD, MPH, instructor of urban health at the Rutgers School of Public Health, told Verywell. “We know that access to culturally competent health care is a barrier that many in these communities face, and this can play out in many different ways."

Krause adds that "whether it’s general medical mistrust of the system or not being able to make a medical appointment due to inconvenient office hours, or the amount of travel time it takes to get there, those who have been historically disenfranchised continue to bear the brunt of new HIV infections.”

What This Means For You

If you are at high risk for contracting HIV, talk to a healthcare provider or visit a local health clinic to learn about ways you can lower the odds you’ll contract the virus.

What Needs to Change

Experts say there are a few changes that need to be made in order to bring HIV cases down for everyone.

Improve Access to Preventive Care

Preventative care is key for reducing the number of new HIV cases.

“Access to and affordability of HIV prevention tools has been critical since the beginning of the HIV epidemic globally and domestically and remains true today, more than 40 years after the initial cases were identified,” Przybyla said. “HIV prevention includes traditional behavioral strategies such as condom use and biomedical strategies such as PrEP to help prevent HIV acquisition among individuals at risk for HIV infection.”

Change the Way HIV Is Viewed

Like the CDC report found, stigma is playing a role in perpetuating new HIV cases and disparities. Experts say healthcare professionals need to address the role societal factors play, too.

“We need to systemically stop talking about—and thus, treating—HIV as a purely biologically driven phenomenon and address the social and structural conditions that fuel its spread,” Krause said.

Include More Minorities in Decision-making

Krause said it’s crucial to “ensure Black and Hispanic folks are at the table when making decisions about funding allocations, policy recommendations, and other high-level resolutions that can impact their communities.”

Make Care Available in More Places

Preventative care, testing, and HIV treatment all need to be made available in easily accessible places.

“Not everyone will be comfortable accessing health care in a clinical or hospital setting,” Krause said. “This may mean that providers may need to come and deliver care in local community centers, churches, schools, and playgrounds, for people to feel safe and secure seeking such services.”

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pitasi M, Beer L, Cha S et al. Vital Signs: HIV Infection, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention Among Gay, Bisexual, and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men — United States, 2010–2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(48):1669-1675. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7048e1

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.