Yesterday I had the honor of being invited to the White House for the 3 year anniversary celebration of the Obama administration’s National HIV AIDS Strategy (NHAS). As part of this celebration, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced a new initiative, The HIV Care Continuum Initiative, focused on increasing the number of individuals who get tested for HIV, linked into care if and when they are diagnosed with HIV, started on treatment early and retained in care. This strategy emphasizes that treatment is prevention. (Details of the HIV Care Continuum Initiative can be found here.)
With Grant Colfax, M.D.,Director of the Office of
National AIDS Policy, at yesterday’s announcement.
Treatment as prevention means that if an individual with HIV gets diagnosed early and started on medication early, then the likelihood of having very low levels of the HIV virus in their body increases. It’s imperative that people with HIV maintain low to negligible levels of the virus because that increases their chances of remaining healthy. Beyond that, maintaining undetectable levels of virus (and practicing safe sex) makes it highly unlikely that they will transmit the virus to their sexual partners. That’s how we get to “Treatment is Prevention.”
In Baltimore City we incorporated NHAS into Healthy Baltimore 2015, our city’s health policy agenda. Our stated goal is to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 25%, but the reality is that our work is focused on helping to create an HIV/AIDS-free generation. Nationally, roughly 20% of the people with HIV don’t know they are infected and only 2/3 of the ones who know get into care; another significant percentage drop off when it comes to starting medication. By the time we get to the viral suppression bucket, we are left with only 25% of those we began with - 1 in 4 individuals. The other 3 are destined to develop illnesses resulting from the virus and, for many of them, infecting sexual partners.
It sounds difficult, but collectively we can achieve an AIDS-free generation. Much of the work we do in collaboration with our clinical and community partners specifically targets increasing the number of individuals that travel through the continuum of care outlined above and live full lives free of debilitating illnesses.
The new initiative announced today will provide much needed dollars for local health departments to partner with federally qualified health clinics.
One of the ways in which we are focused on combating HIV / AIDS is through the city’s HIV/AIDS Commission. The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) is accepting applications for appointments to the commission, whose mission will be to coordinate and enhance HIV prevention and care services and serve as the official HIV prevention planning body for the City. If you are interested in being considered for appointment to serve in this Commission, please fill out the application.
BCHD offers free HIV testing 6 days and 5 nights a week in our mobile van. In addition, we will be at Artscape this weekend offering free confidential HIV testing, Friday and Saturday between 11 a.m. & 9 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Information on additional HIV / AIDS resources for Baltimore City is available on the Baltimore City Health Department website here.
We all have a role to play in ridding our city of HIV. The first step is to get tested.