Today we mark a monumental achievement in our ongoing fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS. For three decades now, HIV has been a long-standing and significant health problem in Baltimore, with terrible consequences. Countless people from all walks of life have died from HIV/AIDS. More than 13,000 people—two percent of the City’s population—are living with HIV.
In addition to the physical and emotional tolls the virus takes on its victims, the costs to our society are staggering. Everyone reading this, I’m sure, has been touched by this epidemic in some form or fashion. Through various programs and initiatives—the City has made tremendous progress in getting more people tested for HIV, getting more HIV positive people into care, and helping those with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
Now, on the eve of World AIDS Day, I’m pleased to report Baltimore has a new, aggressive plan to dramatically reduce new HIV infections, expand treatment, better coordinate services and make a significant improvement to the status of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Baltimore. On Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake unveiled our new strategic report on HIV, “Moving Forward”. The strategy will help us better engage non-profit and community partners in our efforts educate residents and improve the lives of those who are HIV-positive.
The report was prepared by the Baltimore City Commission on HIV/AIDS. It adopts specific, measurable goals in four key areas and outlines a variety of strategic initiatives to achieve those goals in an accelerated timeframe.
1. Reduce new HIV infections by 25% in Baltimore City by 2015
2. Increase access and improve health outcomes by facilitating earlier, more continuous, and more comprehensive care
3. Reduce HIV-related health disparities by focusing resources and coordinated services on the most at-risk populations
4. Achieve a more collaborative City response by creating effective linkages between services providers, advocacy organizations, and community-based models
The measurable goals and specific strategic initiatives outlined for each of the key goals are designed to drive aggressive and fundamental changes, yet are calibrated to be realistically achievable by 2015. I’m especially pleased that our vision aligns with the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy, as well as the ambitious goals we’ve set for improving the health of Baltimore residents through our Healthy Baltimore 2015 agenda.
Reducing HIV disparities is of particular concern in Baltimore. Eighty-seven percent of new HIV infections are among African-Americans, who only represent 64% of Baltimore’s population. This is one of the City’s most glaring health disparities. As referenced in the Strategy, 44 percent of the city population from 10 zip codes represented 60% of new HIV cases. These same zip codes have high rates of STDs, poverty and crime, along with higher rates of other poverty-related health problems, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The Health Department, working in concert with our partners at the state and in the community, is working hard to address these needs. We provided more than 45,000 HIV tests in calendar year 2010. Through these efforts we identified 283 people who were previously unaware of their positive HIV status. Additionally, we operate two STD clinics that provide in excess of 30,000 patient visits per year, and offer HIV testing to all patients who register. Lastly, we are preparing a social marketing campaign in collaboration with Maryland Institute College of Art aimed at increasing awareness and testing among African-American MSM, the group that is currently experiencing the highest rate of HIV transmission.
Our focus is to ensure that patients who test positive make it all the way from receiving their results, through notification of their sex and needle-sharing partners, to being linked to HIV primary care. As leaders of these efforts, we have a responsibility to hold ourselves and each other accountable to achieving measurable results
It is important to realize that the report provides critical guidelines for dramatically reducing HIV/AIDS in Baltimore, but reaching the target goals that have been established cannot be achieved unless communities and individuals also make effective prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS a priority.
This strategy is our path forward. I’m counting on all of you to help us put this strategy into action. Let’s show the world that Baltimore is aware, that Baltimore cares, and that Baltimore is committed to stopping the spread of HIV.