Kevin Fenton, who just stepped down from his position as the Center for Disease Control’s Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention, ramped up efforts to increase testing and increase understanding that social issues such as racism, incarceration, poverty, and homophobia have a big effect on disease transmission.
“We’ve accelerated our efforts to focus on not just the individual behaviors…but the social, cultural, and contextual drivers of HIV,” he told GA Voice.
Fenton, a gay man, also led CDC efforts to make HIV testing a routine part of medical care and the rollout of a new system to more accurately measure the number of HIV infections. He also partnered with affected communities to fight the disease and introduced the first new HIV public communications campaign in two decades.
Fenton’s work is so important because of the way HIV is devastating the African-American community. There are 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States. Blacks make up just under 14 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2009.
Black men made up 70 percent of new HIV infections among Blacks, while the new HIV infection rate for Black women was 15 times higher than that of White women.
Gay Black men have a 1 in 4 chance of contracting HIV by the time they are 25 and a 3 in 5 chance by the time they are 40.
It’s not only HIV but also increases in STDs such as gonorrhea and syphilis,” Fenton said, “that really suggests to me that we need to be ensuring that we are both identifying young people who might be at risk before they become sexually active in our schools and ensuring that we are equipping them with the right information so they can make informed choices when they do become sexually active.
Fenton is returning to England where he will reunite with his partner and assume a new role as Director for Health Improvement & Population Health for Public Health England. It would be wise if the CDC continues to make efforts to fulfill one of Fenton’s guiding principles:
All Americans need the basic tools about HIV to protect themselves. Everybody should know about HIV testing and how HIV is transmitted, and that is work we will always have to do. But you can target some messages to people who are HIV positive and people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV — the fact that we have very good treatments which are now available, that people who are living with HIV should be on treatment, suppress their virus and practice safer sex to reduce onward transmissions. There’s a balancing act. And that balance is the reality of HIV 30 years into the epidemic.