WASHINGTON, July 12 (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama released a domestic AIDS strategy on Monday that aims to cut the infection rate by 25 percent, test 90 percent of those infected and get 85 percent of patients treated right away.
The new plan, to be formally released on Tuesday, also has modest aims to get 20 percent more of the most at-risk groups such as gay and bisexual men and blacks treated with drugs to control their infections.
“Unless we take bold actions, we face a new era of rising infections, greater challenges in serving people living with HIV, and higher health care costs,” the report reads.
The United States should be able to lower the annual number of new infections by 25 percent from 56,300 to 42,225 a year by 2015, the plan said.
It also proposes to cut the HIV transmission rate by 30 percent. Currently, 5 percent of HIV patients infect someone else and the plan aims to lower this to 3.5 percent.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 79 percent of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS know they have it. The plan aims to increase this to 90 percent.
To this end, the plan calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make a top priority the review of new HIV diagnostic tests.
It also promises to get 85 percent of newly diagnosed patients into a doctor’s office or clinic within three months. Currently, 65 percent get treated that quickly.
The plan also targets behavior. “Congress and State legislatures should consider the implementation of laws that promote public health practice and underscore the existing best evidence in HIV prevention for sexual minorities,” it reads.
More than 1.1 million people in the United States are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While only about 5 percent of patients infect someone else, this is enough to keep levels of the virus stable in the United States, the CDC says. The fatal and incurable virus is spread during sex, in blood and breast milk and by contaminated needles.
The U.S. government has a program to fight AIDS globally — PEPFAR, or President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — but there has not been a similar coherent domestic strategy.
While the administration of former President George W. Bush was praised for coming up with PEPFAR, it was widely criticized for promoting abstinence-only education in place of more comprehensive programs stressing condom use.
The new Obama plan includes abstinence but also stresses other approaches.
“We must also move away from thinking that one approach to HIV prevention will work, whether it is condoms, pills, or information,” the plan reads.
“Instead, we need to develop, evaluate, and implement effective prevention strategies and combinations of approaches including efforts such as expanded HIV testing (since people who know their status are less likely to transmit HIV), education and support to encourage people to reduce risky behaviors (and) the strategic use of medications and biomedical interventions,” it adds.
Some AIDS activist groups began criticizing the policy even before it was released, saying it did not come close to doing what they had hoped.
The AIDS virus infects 33 million people globally and has killed 25 million since the pandemic began in the 1980s.
In Africa, most new AIDS patients are women infected by men during sex. In the United States HIV disproportionately affects men who have sex with men, blacks and Hispanics.
(Editing by Eric Beech)