Today we commemorate the 2nd annual National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day provides an opportunity to increase public awareness of the destructive effects of HIV/AIDS on Asians and Pacific Islanders (API), and to renew our commitment to preventing the spread of HIV within all our minority communities. This day is especially relevant as we approach the 25th anniversary of the first reported cases of what is now known as AIDS.
Globally, through the end of 2005, approximately 25 million people had died and 40 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, including more than 8 million individuals residing in Asia. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people with AIDS in the United States. continues to rise among Asians and Pacific Islanders. From 1993 through 2004, the number of Asians and Pacific Islanders living with AIDS increased more than threefold, to 4,045. Most experts speculate that the true number of Asians and Pacific Islanders with AIDS may actually be higher due to underreporting and misclassification of cases in API communities. These statistics and trends reflect a growing health concern for Asians and Pacific Islanders, who comprise one of the fastest-growing racial/ethnic populations in the United States as well as an emerging high-risk group for HIV/AIDS.
Public health officials face a number of formidable barriers in their efforts to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and promote prevention activities within API communities. The most significant challenge is the sheer magnitude and diversity of API nationalities and cultures, which encompass more than 100 languages and dialects. These language and cultural differences can directly and indirectly affect access and use of medical care. This is especially true for many recent immigrants who are not familiar with the U.S. health care system. In addition, a limited number of trained health care providers understand API traditions and culture in relation to medical care and preferences. Efforts to overcome these obstacles require linguistically and culturally tailored messages and greater awareness from the public health community in planning and implementing HIV/AIDS outreach and educational programs and strategies within the API communities.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health, is committed to a comprehensive strategy to controlling HIV/AIDS that includes a robust biomedical research program to develop new prevention and treatment measures. Currently, more than two dozen antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat individuals infected with HIV. However, these drugs do not cure HIV infection or AIDS. They can suppress the virus, even to virtually undetectable levels, but are unable to completely eliminate HIV from the body and do not prevent an HIV-infected person from passing the virus on to others.
The persistence of HIV infection highlights a compelling need for a preventive vaccine and other prophylactic measures. Despite significant progress and the efforts of many scientists around the world, a safe and effective HIV vaccine does not exist. NIAID remains firmly committed to developing and testing effective HIV vaccines, as well as topical microbicides that women could use to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted pathogens. Currently, more than 30 candidate vaccines are being tested worldwide. But to determine whether an HIV vaccine or prevention strategy works in all populations, they must be tested in all populations. Therefore, it is critical that Asians and Pacific Islanders participate in HIV/AIDS clinical research, either by volunteering for a trial, or supporting the involvement of others in such trials. We need the support of the API communities to continue our fight against HIV/AIDS.
For this 2nd annual National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I encourage you to join the effort to educate and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in API communities. Only by working together can we remove barriers to prevention and treatment, save lives, and prevent the further spread of HIV.
Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
NIAID News Office