Hopkins Researcher Says National HIV Epidemic Could be Reversed by 2025

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A young boy gets tested for HIV. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The scourge of HIV’s spread in the United States could soon begin to decline, according to a new study co-authored by a John Hopkins Bloomberg School department chair.

To make that remarkable achievement possible, professor David Holtgrave and his co-author say the United States will need to step up its diagnosis and treatment games. The magic number, they say, is 12,000 — the tally of new infections the country would have to record in 2025 to know that HIV’s spread is finally reversing course.

In 2013, the country tallied 39,000 new HIV infections. Under an Obama-era national infection-reducing strategy, the country set “90/90/90” goals to achieve by 2020: 90 percent of HIV-infected persons know their status, 90 percent of them receive “quality, sustained” cared and 90 percent of those on antiretroviral drugs reach the point where the virus is undetectable in their bloodstream.

To hit that 12,000-infection mark eight years out, the country would need to heighten its targets to “95/95/95” by 2025. In doing so, the number of new infections could drop by 70 percent between 2020 and 2025.

“While these targets are ambitious, they could be achieved with an intensified and sustained national commitment over the next decade,” said Holtgrave, chair of the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, in a statement. He said the ability to do so “lies in our collective willingness as a country to invest the necessary resources in HIV diagnostic, prevention and treatment programs.”

To set these projections, Holtgrave and co-author Robert A. Bonacci, of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, analyzed four years’ worth of HIV numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They used those figures and other indicators, namely the HIV mortality rate and the overall number of people living with HIV, to plot the number of potential new infections from 2014 to 2025.

Those aforementioned antiretroviral drugs are in large part responsible for the declining HIV death rate in the United States. A recent study published the medical journal The Lancet indicates life expectancy for those infected with HIV has reached “near normal” levels compared to rates for non-infected persons.

Holtgrave has done more than just look at the numbers. His resume includes HIV-fighting policy work, including stints as director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention for the CDC and vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the latter of which he was a member from 2010 to 2016.

A reversal in HIV’s spread would do wonders for Maryland. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene figures indicate the state had nearly 32,000 residents diagnosed with HIV at the end of 2015, good enough for the fifth-highest diagnosis rate in the country.

The Baltimore-Columbia-Towson metro area alone had the 10th-highest diagnosis rate of any major city area in 2015.

Ethan McLeod
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