President Trump announced a commitment last week in his second State of the Union speech to end HIV in the United States by 2030. While details are still forthcoming, materials distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services say the multi-year program will focus on 48 counties, Washington, DC, and San Juan, Puerto Rico — which represent more than half of new HIV diagnoses — as well as seven states that have a substantial rural HIV burden.
Greater Than AIDS is a public information campaign, operated by KFF, focused on the domestic epidemic, in particular communities and people most affected. Launched in 2009, Greater Than AIDS builds on KFF’s more than two decades of experience developing and running large-scale HIV media campaigns in the U.S. and abroad, earning multiple Emmy and Peabody awards. Through targeted media messages and community outreach, we work to increase knowledge and understanding of HIV and confront stigma, while promoting actions to stem its spread. Tina Hoff, Senior Vice President for KFF and Director of the Health Communication and Media Partnerships Program that runs Greater Than AIDS, answers three questions about HIV in America today:
1) What issues does Greater Than AIDS come across that need addressing to be successful in achieving the goals of the new plan?
Hoff: We have found that public knowledge and attitudes have not always kept pace with the scientific advances, and each new generation must be educated. A 2017 KFF survey of young people ages 18-30 found that only 13 percent knew about PrEP, an FDA approved pill to prevent HIV. Most also understate the benefits of HIV treatment as prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people living with HIV who take their antiretroviral medications every day, as prescribed, and maintain a suppressed viral load, have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners. Misinformation persists even about the basics. About a third of those surveyed mistakenly believe HIV can be spread by sharing dishes or glasses.
The stigma associated with HIV also remains an ongoing challenge. Whether it is getting tested, keeping up with care and treatment, or having the support of loved ones, stigma can present as one of the most significant barriers to ending HIV.
2) How does Greater Than AIDS reach communities where resources may be more limited, such as the rural areas being targeted in the federal plan?
Hoff: Through digital media we reach people no matter where they are with vital health information, as well as provide a sense of community. As one of the largest social media groups focused on the domestic HIV epidemic, Greater Than AIDS is a go-to for those looking to find and offer advice and support.
Video content is increasingly the preferred format, especially for younger generations, and it has the advantage of working across education and reading levels. The hundreds of stories of real people sharing openly and honestly about their experiences through Greater Than AIDS help others living with HIV feel less alone. One young man, after seeing our campaign, for example, said it helped him open up a dialogue with his family about his HIV status. The videos also offer tools and knowledge to stay healthy regardless of status.
3) What is the experience of Greater Than AIDS in addressing HIV in areas with higher prevalence?
Hoff: A focus for our work is in the South, which accounts for a disproportionate share of the U.S. epidemic and where health outcomes of HIV are often worse. We partner with state and local health departments and other community allies to develop and place targeted, cross-media public information campaigns in parts of the country most affected by HIV.
Through localized responses, i.e. GEORGIA>AIDS and HOUSTON>AIDS, we provide media messages and informational materials that can be tailored to the needs of specific communities and executed quickly. By working across regions, we facilitate sharing of strategies and best practices among health departments.
Our partnership with Walgreens also works with health departments and local AIDS service organizations to bring free HIV testing and information to more than 300 stores across the nation around National HIV Testing Day in June.