These days, Sub-Saharan Africa gets most of the attention from the HIV prevention world. That makes sense; the region is home to 69% of all people who have HIV. But let’s not forget that HIV is still a huge problem in the U.S., where the disease runs rampant in many pockets across the country.
Just in time for National HIV Testing Day, AIDSVu, the most detailed publicly available look at HIV cases in the country, has updated its interactive map, which zooms in on areas down to the zip code and census tract level.
Developed by epidemiologist Patrick Sullivan, the map was inspired by the many tables of HIV data surveillance reports he saw during his tenure at the CDC’s National HIV Surveillance Program. The reports are incredibly detailed, but incomprehensible to the lay person. So in 2010, Sullivan and his team decided to turn the data into a more readable format.
We first covered AIDSVu in 2011 (and did an update last year), when the map was working off national data from 2008 (the information is updated annually, but with a time lag). At the time, zip code-level data was only available for New York City and Washington, D.C. Now the map has been updated with data from 2010–including zip code data for 20 major cities. Data zooms into the census tract level for Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. You could spend hours toggling through the different views: availability of health insurance, poverty level, race, sex, age, and more.
As in the 2011 map, it’s obvious in this latest version that HIV is a major issue in the south. “When you see state maps in isolation, it’s hard to appreciate how deep, how consistent the impact is across the south,” says Sullivan.
It’s heartening to learn that the AIDSVu map has actually been making a difference in this HIV-afflicted part of the country, where income inequality is also ever-present. In Alabama, the Access to Care initiative is using the map to determine where HIV telemedicine centers should be located. As it stands, Alabama has one infectious disease specialist per 75,000 residents and just six medical centers devoted to HIV/AIDS medical care. Telemedicine is sorely needed, but it needs to be strategically placed.
“We want to use this data to make informed decisions about where resources will do the most good,” says Sullivan.
The Access to Care initiative isn’t the only HIV-related organization using the map. Sullivan tells me that AIDSVu frequently gets web traffic from governments, universities, and health departments. He also hopes that individuals use the tool to get a better idea of what’s going on in their communities. “This is story about big data being used and processed and put back in a way that makes it more personal for people,” he says.