AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The country may be looking to Texas in the nationwide effort to eliminate new HIV infections.
The director of the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, M.D., will meet with Austin-area health leaders to discuss ending the spread of HIV. Redfield will also tour an AIDS Services of Austin facility.
During his State of the Union address in February, President Donald Trump called for support of a national plan to end the HIV epidemic in the country, which includes a goal to reduce new HIV infections by 75% in five years and by at least 90% in 10 years.
The plan is built upon four main strategies, involving early diagnosis and treatment, protecting people at risk using prevention methods like medication, and rapid response to growing populations of HIV cases.
“Texas is going to play a big role in the solution in terms of accomplishing that goal,” Redfield said Tuesday.
Redfield said the CDC identified 50 jurisdictions nationwide that account for over 50% of new infections. Five of them are in Texas, all metro hubs.
“Texas is between seventh and eighth rank in new infections diagnosed or AIDS cases in the nation — just a significant contribution of Texas to occur in the HIV epidemic,” Redfield explained.
A CDC report published in February indicated the number of new HIV infections began to plateau in 2013 after a steady five-year decline, “reinforcing the need for more action to end America’s HIV epidemic.” Researchers believe effective prevention and treatment are “not adequately reaching those who could most benefit from them,” leading to trends within specific populations. The CDC report lists gay and bisexual men, African Americans, Latinos and people ages 25-34 as bearing the “greatest burden” of new HIV infections in the United States.
According to AIDS Services of Austin, Texas is one of seven states selected to receive additional expertise, resources and technology needed to end the HIV epidemic.
Multiple organizations and institutions are working together to get us over the finish line,” the organization’s CEO Paul Scott said.
Health leaders are suggesting other communities mirror Austin’s approach.
AIDS Services of Austin offers testing for sexually-transmitted infections and promotes overall wellness — such as dental, legal legal and mental health services — targeting low-income and traditionally marginalized communities.
“We are working really hard to normalize the conversation around sexual health and we believe people should think of sexual health as just their health,” the non-profit’s director of prevention programs, Alberto Barragan, said.
Dominic Miller, who was diagnosed HIV positive in 1995, relies on services the organization offers. Staff set him up with legal help to draft a will and get other legal advice.
“All of these things are so incredibly important when you’re HIV positive,” Miller explained. “When you have serious illnesses you need to be prepared.”
Miller said strides in treatment are keeping people alive, but urged Texans to get tested and get educated.
“Back in those days it was treated as such a death threat, it’s not treated better with better medicines so that you can live longer,” he said.
According to the CDC, 90,000 Texans have HIV, and around 15,000 don’t know they are infected.
AIDS Services of Austin reports more than 17% of Central Texans living with HIV are unaware of their status and out of care.
“Texas is big, but Texas is also smart, and that’s why it’s part of the solution for ending the HIV epidemic initiative,” Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director, CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.