ATLANTA -- There is a growing complacency about HIV, especially among some people most at risk, health officials said Sunday at the first ever national conference addressing efforts to monitor and prevent the spread of the virus.
More than 2,000 scientists, doctors, researchers and advocates are in Atlanta this week for the National HIV Prevention Conference organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 17 other sponsoring organizations.
"It's becoming increasingly difficult to get people to pay attention to HIV prevention and that in and of itself is a primary reason for this conference," said Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention.
"Despite a growing complacency about the need for HIV prevention, HIV remains a serious disease that is still very much with us and there is a greater need for HIV prevention today more than ever," she said.
During the four-day conference, federal officials will release the latest national data on trends in HIV and AIDS deaths and infection rates for the general population. Statistics on prisoners, unrecognized factors contributing to the spread of HIV, and results from a new HIV test will also be released.
In the nearly two decades since the first cases of AIDS were reported, the deadly virus has claimed more than 300,000 lives. The good news is that the number of new HIV infections has dropped from about 100,000 a year to 40,000.
But at the same time, the epidemic is taking a greater toll on women and minorities, especially blacks who are becoming infected with AIDS at record rates, federal health officials said.
In the mid 1980s, blacks represented about 25 percent of the new cases of AIDS reported, Hispanics about 14 percent and women 8 percent, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said. By 1997-98, blacks made up 45 percent of the cases, Hispanics 22 percent and women 23 percent.
"One of the major concerns we have about the AIDS epidemic is that increasingly it is affecting communities that tend to be left out of the health care and public health system," Satcher said. "We know that in order to be successful we have to find a new way to reach these communities."
Much of the effort now being made to fight the epidemic is devoted to care and treatment when more needs to be directed toward prevention in order to control the epidemic, experts say.
"We have demonstrated that prevention works and deserves support," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, head of the CDC. "Nevertheless, as in most areas of public health, support for prevention is frequently more rhetorical than substantive."