With Better Data, a Foundation for Stronger HIV Prevention

Content From: Eugene McCray, M.D., Director, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionPublished: November 29, 20163 min read


Eugene McCray - CDC - headshot cropped May 2016
Dr. Eugene McCray
High quality data form the backbone of our nation’s HIV response. National surveillance of HIV cases provides the critical information we need to set prevention priorities, allocate limited prevention resources, and measure our collective progress against the disease.

HIV surveillance is one of CDC’s most important responsibilities. That’s why, every year since 1982, CDC has regularly published its HIV Surveillance Report . CDC’s 27th volume of the report, issued today and with data through 2015, provides the most accurate and detailed picture yet of recently diagnosed HIV infections the United States and its dependent areas.

Our nation’s HIV surveillance systems have advanced a long way since the early days of the epidemic, both in terms of how data is collected and how it is analyzed and reported. Today, most states report complete information on HIV cases to CDC – including the person’s age, race/ethnicity, risk factors, and even their HIV viral load at the time they are diagnosed. Removing duplicate cases takes much less time than it used to, and new technology means we can process large quantities of data much more quickly.

These advances led to an important change in this year’s report: the data are no longer being adjusted to account for delayed reporting of HIV cases to CDC. When reporting was less uniform across states, it was necessary to offset delays in reporting by adjusting data so that we had more reliable estimates for any given year. While some estimation is still required – for example, to account for missing information on a person’s risk factors – data collection has improved so much that adjusting for reporting delays is no longer needed.

Today’s report is critical because HIV diagnosis data are one of the primary ways we track progress against the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020. The diagnosis data from today’s report show important signs of progress, as well as some enduring challenges. Between 2010 and 2014, the annual number and rate of HIV diagnoses decreased for the nation overall. Diagnosis rates decreased among African Americans, Latinos and whites, as did the number of diagnoses resulting from heterosexual contact or injection drug use. However, the annual number of diagnoses remained stable among men who have sex with men. Overall, nearly all age groups experienced decreases, but diagnosis rates remained stable for people aged 20-24, and increased among people aged 25-29.

One encouraging sign is that HIV prevalence – the number of people living with diagnosed HIV – reached an all-time high at the end of 2014, largely because fewer people are dying of HIV than ever before. This signals that our efforts to improve care outcomes are having a positive impact. It is also encouraging because we know that when people’s HIV is suppressed by treatment, they are unlikely to transmit infection to others.

Together with other reports published throughout the year, the HIV Surveillance Report is part of CDC’s ongoing commitment to delivering timely, reliable data to our national, state and local partners. As we approach World AIDS Day, we must celebrate the progress we have made while continuing to strengthen HIV prevention for communities everywhere.