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January 28, 2015

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Few Americans with HIV treated effectively

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Twenty-one years ago, on Nov. 7, 1991, America was jolted with the news that basketball legend Magic Johnson had contracted HIV and would immediately retire from the sport.

Almost immediately, Johnson began taking the antiretroviral drug AZT, and his health quickly improved.

Just three months later, Johnson returned to basketball to play in the 1992 All-Star Game, where his performance earned him the MVP award.

Johnson’s fans and supporters were delighted by his triumphant return. And through Johnson’s experience, mainstream America began to understand that HIV infection was no longer an automatic death sentence but a largely treatable, chronic condition.

We are fortunate that during the past two decades, there has been great progress in the treatment and care of people living with HIV and AIDS. With early detection and increasingly effective treatments, Johnson is just one of many high-profile examples of how people can manage their HIV and live long, productive lives.

But although proper treatment for people with HIV has become much more available and effective, only 25 percent of Americans with HIV are receiving it.

At the same time, people born after AIDS emerged in 1981 are now most at risk of becoming infected with HIV. This sad fact highlights how important awareness and education are as we mark World AIDS Day today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV infection rates are increasing for Americans between 13 and 30, and most of the new HIV infections reported in this country involve people younger than 30.

It is so important to ensure that all people — especially young people — are aware and educated about HIV/AIDS prevention and the availability of effective treatments.

Let World AIDS Day remind us that about 56,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year, according to the CDC, and that more than 14,000 Americans with AIDS die each year. The CDC estimates that nearly 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV and that about one in five don’t know they have the virus.

Regularly testing people most at risk for HIV — and then providing antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS patients — dramatically reduces the number of new infections.

Preventing HIV is not complicated. If you’re sexually active, get tested. Don’t use IV drugs or share needles. Abstain or practice safer sex. With preventive care, patients and their health care providers can fight and manage this disease and slow its spread.

As was the case with Magic Johnson and other courageous Americans 20 years ago, we can’t allow today’s more effective treatments to make us complacent or ambivalent, or to lessen our resolve to find a cure and an AIDS-free generation.

To learn more or to find a place near you to get tested, visit

Dr. Sam Ho, M.D., is UnitedHealthcare’s chief medical officer.

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  1. Dr. Ho, I opine your concerns now, after 20 years of postive progress, are prompted by Obamacare. You know as well as we that there will be government limts on dollars and funding that will be available for AIDS and AIDS sufferers. This will hurt not help.


  2. In reaction to Bradley Chapline's account of a public servant, Cedric P., my heart is both saddened and my mind is outraged. Few people in our society bother to hear such accounts, and ponder the rammifications. No good ever comes from hatred. Anyone who doesn't comfortably fit or comform into the small world picture and perceptions of those who unjustly judge others are all too often persecuted, emmotionally and physically harmed, bullied, harrassed, forced to move locations, shunned, and gossiped about. To further aggrevate this problem, the people at the top, feel that it's not their problem, so they put the issue into the hands of those below them in supervision, those who are most often a part of the problem, to "deal with it." Then what results is the type of "fate" Bradley's dear friend, Cedric P., suffered at the hands of those who deemed themselves "blameless" in the situation.

    Humanity has not evolved much when it comes to compassion. If the lives of human beings were judged by some super computers of justice, I wonder what the outcome would be, based solely on facts.

    In the last few decades, great strides have been made in identifying, treating, and managing HIV and AIDS, and I truly appreciate Dr. Ho's article bringing attention to this. I am blessed to have a doctor who has a well-rounded career, and whose practice includes the compassionate care of those with HIV and AIDS. She has conversed with me about the behaviors she has witnessed while working in the prison system, and this confirms Bradley's story as well. Believe it!

    Blessings and Peace,