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World AIDS Day

Q&A with Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy Erika Martin

Students prepare a memorial in honor of AIDS victims for World AIDS Day

Students light candles in the shape of the AIDS awareness red ribbon on World AIDS Day (Photo Bilal Hussein, AP)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (November 30, 2010) --

Observed December 1st each year, World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic and to its causes.

Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy Assistant Professor Erika Martin is an expert on the politics of HIV and substance abuse policy. She offers insight on World AIDS Day and the impact of HIV in the United States. Martin is also an institute fellow at UAlbany's Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Q: What is the purpose of World AIDS Day?

A: World AIDS Day is intended to bring awareness to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is also an opportunity to remind people to get tested and to protect themselves from HIV by learning the facts about HIV transmission and how to reduce it.

UAlbany assistant professor Erika Martin

Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy Erika Martin (Photo Mark Schmidt)

Q: In the United States, AIDS has fallen off the radar a bit. Considering problems with the economy, the health care debate, H1N1, childhood obesity or many other public health issues competing for our attention, why should HIV/AIDS continue to be cause for concern?

A: There are 56,000 new cases each year, and this number has remained relatively constant over time. Since the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in the mid-1990s, mortality has dropped dramatically. Because people with HIV are living longer, the number of cases is increasing. Currently there are 1.1 million prevalent cases, of whom 21% are unaware of their infection. The increasing number of cases, in addition to the recession which has limited government spending on health programs, is straining the capacity of public programs that finance treatment and care for individuals living with HIV.

Q: 25 years ago AIDS was perhaps seen as the most important public health issue facing the United States. What has changed since then?

A: There have been great advances in the clinical management of HIV, including HAART. The demographics of HIV have changed. In the 1980s, HIV was seen as a gay male urban disease, and now the epidemic in the heterosexual population is increasingly moving towards minority and low-income populations, and spreading in rural areas and the Southeast. Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new recommendations for HIV screening in the general population and in routine care, rather than focusing on high-risk populations only (such as injection drug users and people getting treated at STD clinics). In response, some states (including New York) have changed their local HIV testing laws to encourage people to get tested.

Q: 60 Years ago Polio was a massive problem in the United States, but by 1957 it was virtually cured. Is the same thing possible with HIV/AIDS, and what needs to happen to get there?

A: Polio was eradicated because of the mass vaccination campaign. Although scientists are working on an HIV vaccine, it is not likely to ever be as effective as the polio vaccine because the HIV virus mutates so rapidly. Consequently, its use will likely be limited to high-prevalence regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. There has been recent attention to the potential use of pre-exposure prophylactic therapy to reduce future infections. However, this is still under investigation and not yet a policy recommendation. In the meantime, the best way to reduce transmission is to change your behavior and protect yourself through safe sex and not sharing needles.

Additional Resources: Martin's Q&A on expanded HIV testing from the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

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