As the world’s scientists, advocates and leaders gather at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington this week, there’s a lot to be excited about: In the last four years we’ve seen the powerful preventive effect of treatment for people living with HIV; the FDA approval of oral use of AIDS drugs for prevention; proof-of-concept for a topical microbicide gel for prevention; and promising new developments in the quests for a cure and a vaccine.

We are turning the tide on AIDS, but we now need to come together in a concerted effort to finally stop the spread of the epidemic. It is only through the conscious collaboration of elected officials and scientists, medical professionals and community leaders that we will finally achieve an end to HIV/AIDS. And only if we act now.

In no industrialized nation is the impact of HIV/AIDS more keenly felt than in the United States. Annual new infections have not decreased from around 50,000 each of the past 10 years. Twenty percent of American’s living with HIV don’t even know it—a key driver of the epidemic. Only 1 in 5 Americans with HIV is reaping the full benefits of treatment.  And there remains persistent political challenges to the implementation of highly effective interventions like syringe exchange programs.

The AIDS epidemic in America is a Tale of Two Cities.  We have a system that can work very well for some of us.  But for many of us, the system is terribly broken.

Black people are half of all people living with, becoming infected and dying from HIV/AIDS. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 16 black men and 1 in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV infection in their lifetimes.

Black Americans, Latinos and other people of color account for nearly 70% of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. These racial disparities also exist in the medical care that HIV/AIDS-positive Black men and women receive. They are typically diagnosed at later stages of the disease and have less access to life-saving treatments.

This is completely unacceptable.

Two years ago, President Obama released the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS strategy in the United States. Together we can manifest that vision.

First, we must fully implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will deliver health coverage to more than 30 million people who are currently uninsured. 

Second, everyone living with HIV must come out. Living openly and proudly with HIV not only confronts HIV stigma, but it also helps build demand for essential services. 

Third, we need to put as much emphasis on building demand for treatment as we do on ensuring access. 

Fourth, we need to integrate the biomedical and the behavioral in our prevention and treatment efforts.

Fifth, AIDS organizations need to re-tool themselves for a rapidly evolving AIDS landscape. 

The Black AIDS Institute’s motto is, “Our People, Our Problem, Our Solution.” It is incumbent upon Black Americans from all over to seize the opportunity. For some that means organizing a post-conference hub in their hometown. For others that means learning what is working in other places so as to enhance local advocacy efforts. That may mean using the news coverage as entrée to talk with their children, relatives and loved ones about HIV and how to stay safe. And for our leaders, it must mean increased accountability, increased fiscal support, and a renewed commitment to achieving the goals of President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

This is our time. This is our deciding moment. Together we are greater than AIDS.

Wilson is president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute
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