Story at a glance

  • The HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s in the United States and continues to this day.
  • President Biden has set a goal of ending the epidemic, which affects millions of Americans.
  • Public health experts are crediting an HIV outbreak in Boston to a spike in testing after the city shut down for the coronavirus pandemic.

After the coronavirus pandemic prompted stay-at-home orders across the country, many people stopped getting tested for other conditions — including HIV. Now that the country is reopening, public officials are crediting a sudden HIV outbreak in Boston to increased testing. 


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“It is astounding that we have as many cases as we do,” Jennifer José Lo, medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission, told The Boston Globe. “It is not easy to transmit HIV. It’s a very preventable, very treatable disease...It’s impacting a community that is already encountering many significant challenges.”

The initial HIV/AIDS outbreak in the 1980s hit the LGBTQ+ community hard, especially gay and bisexual men of color, who were already marginalized and discriminated against for their sexuality before the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated these inequities. Today, 4 in 10 transgender women in several major cities are living with HIV, which is disproportionately prevalent in Black and Indigenous communities, as well as the Hispanic community. 


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The outbreak in Boston, however, is primarily among people who inject drugs and lack stable housing, public health officials told The Boston Globe, and accompanies a recent increase in both fentanyl use and homelessness. In all of these populations, however, stigma has proven a major barrier in mitigating the crisis. 

“It’s a marker of how well we’re treating our marginalized communities,” Joshua Barocas, an infectious diseases specialist at Boston Medical Center, told the Boston Globe, saying that pre-pandemic efforts were already short. “This is yet another fully preventable epidemic. And it is associated with us not providing for our most vulnerable.”


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Published on Apr 21, 2021