Thursday, September 11, 2008

CA's New HIV Stats Released:

Infections Up or Down?

In the past two months I've been pressuring the California Office of AIDS in Sacramento to greatly expand the amount of HIV infection rate data released to the public, especially on the agency's web site. Right now, CA's statistics are presented only in cumulative totals and it's not easy figuring out if the number of infections is up, down or stable.

I filed a public records request for HIV stats going back to mid-year 2002, broken down in monthly, quarterly and yearly format. Last week, the Office of AIDS provided me with the info requested in a slide format, which is presented below.

Even though I now have very current HIV stats in hand, I'm unable to say if recent numbers are climbing or falling. Yes, the second slide shows a dramatic surge in stats from 2006 to 2007, and slightly fewer stats so far in 2008, but I still won't say if I think the HIV rate in California is up or down.

The reason for my reluctance is because for too long the state's HIV reporting system was unique identifier based, meaning, a person's name wasn't attached to his or her testing paperwork, making it difficult to adequately track new infections. Then in 2006 the state finally shifted into a names based reporting system, which will one day mature to the point of telling us if very recent infections are increasing or not.

But because the local health departments and private labs, working with the state, are cleaning up their unique identifier HIV data, and those stakeholders are assessing the first few years' worth of names based HIV stats, there are many limitations to the data and caution is called for in interpreting the data on the two slides.

That being said, I want to applaud the Office of AIDS for being so open to my suggestions for improving presentation of HIV data, and better engaging the public through the agency's web site.

Dr. Michelle Roland, head of the office, and her staff have done a good job of posting new reports and statements to the public, about their activities. I anticipate even more improvements from the office staff in the next few months, and a better understanding in the gay and black community about the state's efforts at tracking, treating and controlling HIV/AIDS.

Finally, the Office of AIDS epidemiologists who prepared the slides, are available to answer questions about the slides and HIV stats for California. Give them a call at 916-449-5866.

For a larger format of the slides, please click on them.

Slide 1.

Slide 2.

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