The Beginning of the End of AIDS

Kevin Fenton of the CDC says new federal strategies and advances in HIV prevention will turn the tide.

Centers for Disease Control
Centers for Disease Control

(The Root) — For two decades, the International AIDS Conference has played a vital role in assembling the global community to discuss new scientific advances and to mobilize action around fighting the devastating disease. Taking place in Washington, D.C., this week — the first time in 22 years that the conference has been held in the United States — the event also creates renewed urgency around the national epidemic.

Despite the staggering 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S., Kevin Fenton, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, is optimistic that government and community-based partners are now on the right track to stem HIV’s tide.

In an interview with The Root, Fenton discussed the importance of finally confronting the reality that “not everybody is equally affected by the epidemic,” new research that underscores the major impact of basic public-awareness campaigns and why he believes that, after decades of merely stabilizing the number of new HIV infections, a new federal strategy and new medical breakthroughs will get the country much closer to an AIDS-free generation.

The Root: Over the past couple of years, CDC has rolled out a range of new HIV initiatives. How do these efforts differ from past approaches?

Kevin Fenton: Everything that you’re seeing now is rooted in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was released two years ago. That was the first time that the United States had a documented vision, strategy and plan for addressing the HIV epidemic in a coordinated way in this country. The strategy was clear about what we needed to do: Reduce the number of new infections, improve access to care, address health inequities and work more collaboratively across government and with external partners.

It challenged us to not see the epidemic as “business as usual.” We needed more focus, more targeting, more scale and impact. For example, our Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Planning program focuses on 12 high-burden cities that account for 44 percent of persons living with HIV in the United States. Our new social-marketing campaigns are geared toward raising awareness and addressing stigma and discrimination — all of which were in the national strategy.