The AIDS Epidemic: The U.S. vs. Europe

By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly

I came across a video by Michael Hobbes, a human-rights consultant, entitled: ‘Explained: Why is the AIDS epidemic so severe in America?’ I’ve written a lot about HIV and AIDS for PQ, but I had never really considered the idea that the epidemic was more severe in America than other countries. Before the video Hobbs cites a statistic from a story he wrote for The New Republic last year:

In 2010, the United States had 47,500 new HIV infections. The entire European Union—with a population more than one and a half times that of the United States—had just 31,400.

The video opens explaining that every year over 13,000 people in America die from AIDS-related complications, while the EU had less than 1,000 die from AIDS-related complications.

Obviously, one of the first things that came to my mind was the comparison of the health care systems, I’ve blogged a few times about the inadequacies of our own system when dealing with HIV and AIDS, it’s expensive and inconvenient and AIDS has shifted into the most vulnerable populations (people of color and poor people), which Hobbs also cites. But he also paints a much larger and complex picture than that: The timeline of the arrival of HIV in America and Europe, how the demographics of each affected how quickly the virus spread, how the different rates of drug use affected transmission, and how the drug policies of 1980’s (America was in the War on Drugs and Europe was implementing needle exchanges) helped spread the disease.

Hobbs’ whole article in The New Republic is well worth a read, he’s done a lot of research and is interested in the methodology of information. But if you aren’t a reader you can also watch his video, which sums up all his points very succulently.