Visualizing HIV in America: How Mapping Data Can Help End the HIV Epidemic

Aug. 14, 2019

Elizabeth Pembleton

  • Where you live affects your risk for HIV.

  • AIDSVu is an interactive online mapping tool that utilizes the latest data to map the HIV epidemic at the state, county, and city levels. The maps visualize HIV-related data by race/ethnicity, sex, age, and transmission category.

  • Public data and mapping tools like AIDSVu and the City Health Dashboard help community leaders better target health interventions and resources at areas disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic.

Since the first diagnoses of AIDS nearly 40 years ago health officials have made significant progress to reduce new HIV infections. However, the HIV epidemic continues to disproportionately impact marginalized groups. Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a plan to end HIV by 2030, which specifically targets 48 counties and two cities with high-burden, along with seven states with a substantial rural HIV burden.

This plan requires an accurate picture of HIV’s impact on specific locations and among different populations, especially those most marginalized. This information is critical for policymakers, public health officials, community-based organizations, and researchers when determining how and where to allocate resources. AIDSVu provides leaders with the tools and resources they need to visualize the HIV epidemic at the state and local level and make data-driven decisions.

Rates of HIV infection may be declining, but large disparities still persist

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that HIV incidence in Black and Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) occurs at a higher rate than among their white counterparts. 1 in 2 Black MSM and 1 in 4 Latino MSM will acquire HIV during their lifetime, compared to 1 in 11 White MSM. However, the CDC has stated that over 185,000 infections could be averted by 2020 through increases in testing, treatment, and the use of antiretroviral medications like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Research shows that minorities and lower income communities are more likely to face geographic barriers critical to health care and access to PrEP. This is especially true in the South where more than half of new HIV infections occur every year, but where only one-third of PrEP users live, according to AIDSVu data.

The Power of Visualizing Data 

Mapping HIV prevalence helps people understand that where you live matters when it comes to being at risk for HIV. AIDSVu offers a comprehensive view of the HIV epidemic at the national, state, county, and city levels. Using the latest available data, AIDSVu’s recently released nearly 40 city-level maps visualizing disparities in HIV infections, mortality, and PrEP use, both geographically and across different demographic groups. These maps, like the Orlando, FL map below, also can be mapped alongside social determinants of health data.

AIDSVu maps also help public health officials locate facilities that provide HIV testing and preventative treatments like PrEP, which is still largely under-utilized. While PrEP use has been increasing year to year—including a 32% increase in PrEP users from 2017 to 2018—disparities in PrEP use exist across different sexes, age groups, and geographic regions. These disparities illustrate the need to continue expanding access to PrEP and other comprehensive HIV prevention strategies across populations and geographic regions. We need accessible and accurate data to identify the communities that need treatment most to work together to end the HIV epidemic.

Tools like the City Health Dashboard can help us do just that. Integrating our data sets on HIV prevalence with the Dashboard’s socio-economic metrics including unemployment, uninsured, and neighborhood racial/ethnic segregation creates a more complete picture of the various issues facing a community and can show how HIV and various social determinants of health may move together. Armed with this knowledge, practitioners can craft more nuanced messaging and develop outreach strategies that better resonate with communities, encouraging them to use prevention methods, get tested, and seek treatment.

Visualizing data is key to understanding which communities are not currently being served or which demographics have the greatest HIV burden. We hope community organizers and health care providers take advantage of all the public data available to them.  Making informed and strategic decisions to ensure funding and resources are allocated to those who are often overlooked and the most in need. Together, our two organizations can help you learn more about the HIV epidemic in your community and equip you with the tools necessary for driving change and meeting the ambitious goal to end HIV by 2030.

View AIDSVu’s interactive maps to learn more about HIV in the 48 counties and seven states, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Additionally, explore all of the resources AIDSVu has to offer, including:

Elizabeth received her Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Behavior from the University of Georgia, and her Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has worked with sexual minority populations, data analytics, and surveillance throughout her career, including research on STI risk perceptions within WSMW and WSW populations in the South, clinical data analytics with a small healthcare IT company, and foodborne surveillance at the CDC. Elizabeth joined PRISM Health in August 2015 as a Data Analyst for the AIDSVu, HepVu, and other Powered By projects. She loves public health technology, GIS, and data visualization, so has continued on these projects as the Research Project Manager and now the Associate Director, Programs.

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