MAPP chief: No surprise that AIDS estimate was way off

By |2008-08-14T09:00:00-04:00August 14th, 2008|Uncategorized|

The CDC has just released new estimates of the number of people in the nation newly infected with HIV in 2006, and they show an increase of over 40 percent. But Midwest AIDS Prevention Project (MAPP) Executive Director Craig Covey says there is no surprise in the increase.
“MAPP has never had complete faith with the numbers we get from the CDC and the state,” Craig Covey said bluntly about the new infection estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We have questioned their estimates for many years – MAPP being 20 years old this year. The history of this epidemic has been (that) the government has not only often been behind the ball on estimates, but where the epidemic was heading. In the ’90s we knew it was going into the black community.”
The new numbers from the CDC, released Saturday at the International AIDS Conference held in Mexico City, show that the old estimate of 40,000 new infections in the U.S. was off by 40 percent. The real number is 53,600 new infections in the year 2006. The new number does not mean that suddenly 13,600 people were infected on Aug. 2; it only means that through lab tests the CDC was able to discover that 13,600 more infections occurred than had been previously thought. The estimate is a reflection of a guess as to where and how the virus is spreading. It is not based on hard numbers.
The new numbers show a steady increase in the number of men who have sex with men, particularly in the African-American and Hispanic communities, which are hit hardest by the epidemic.
In a press statement about the new numbers, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said:
“These data, which are based on new laboratory technology developed by CDC, provide the clearest picture to date of the U.S. HIV epidemic, and unfortunately we are far from winning the battle against this preventable disease. We as a nation have to come together to focus our efforts on expanding the prevention programs we know are effective.”
MAPP’s Covey concurs with Gerberding’s assessment and was very harsh in some of his criticisms of organizations and groups who appear to be unwilling and unable to address the epidemic’s spreading boundaries. He was particularly harsh when it came to the LGBT community’s own response to the epidemic.
The numbers reflect that men who have sex with men continue to be one of the highest at-risk groups. Covey said that is because the LGBT community is simply not responding anymore. The majority of MAPP’s funds are raised from the straight community, he said, not the LGBT community.
“We still have bathhouses here in Detroit that refuse to have HIV education in there,” Covey said. “A year ago, we were asked to leave Menjo’s, which is a very popular gay club for younger gay men in Detroit. And I know that Backstreet, the largest gay club in Michigan, is not doing any HIV education or prevention work.”
As for funding sources, Covey pointed out that three large funding agencies working with the LGBT community also do not fund HIV/AIDS work. “If I approach some of the main gay foundations in this country, I am declined because they don’t fund AIDS work. Groups like the HOPE Fund (Detroit) or Arcus Foundation (Kalamazoo) or Gill Foundation (Colorado) –those are three. And I believe all three of them do not fund HIV/AIDS work in the LGBT community.”
He also believes that the LGBT community is not responding to assist the men who have sex with men in minority populations. “I think the black gay community is coming around, but they don’t always have adequate resources,” Covey said. “I don’t see the GLBT community doing enough to support that community. I mean we have discussions and panels and roundtables about it, but we don’t really do what is necessary. A lot of times that means rolling up your sleeves and going into the community.”
Covey also had criticism for the Bush administration, which for years pushed a failed policy of abstinence-only education and prevention work that Bush officials insisted should not include condoms.
“There is lots of blame to go around, however, with lots of issues with the eight years under this president (that) have been squandered. We had to battle the whole abstinence-only model. We wasted eight more years,” Covey said. “To some extent he did some good work with care and medicine in Third World countries. I give him a C on that. In terms of prevention here, I give him an F.”

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