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Using Data to Understand and Combat the Spread of HIV/AIDS

Mon Dec 01 2014
John H. Thompson
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Today is World AIDS Day, an annual opportunity for people around the world to unite against HIV/AIDS, to support those who are living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that in 2013, 35 million people worldwide lived with HIV, and there were about 1.5 million AIDS-related deaths.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has affected the populations of many countries. The 10 countries selected in the above image have suffered the combined loss of more than 14.5 million people.

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Tracking and compiling data are important elements in understanding and combatting the spread of HIV and AIDS. The Census Bureau has tracked key data relating to HIV and AIDS for many years. In 1987, we created the HIV/AIDS Surveillance Data Base in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and it continues to be supported with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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Today, the Data Base contains over 164,000 records from more than 14,900 sources, with more added every year. It is a major compilation of HIV prevalence and incidence data. In fact, the Data Base is the most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world, and includes records for all countries and areas with a population of at least 5,000, with the exception of North America (including the United States) and U.S. territories. These records help identify patterns in the spread of infection, which can assist decision-makers, academics and healthcare professionals who conduct research to help end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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Researchers at the Census Bureau also use data to assess the impact of increased mortality due to HIV. Using pregnant women’s HIV infection rates, they can estimate and project the prevalence of HIV infection and mortality rates at a national level. Census Bureau population estimates and projections that incorporate the effect of HIV/AIDS are now available for more than 50 countries.

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Information about the HIV/AIDS epidemic and impacts on population is critical for decision-makers in developing countries, program planners and the international development community. I am proud of the Census Bureau’s history of collecting, analyzing and publishing data that can help in efforts to diminish the spread of this disease.

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