County goal: Getting to zero for HIV/AIDS

Did you know that nearly 20,000 residents of our county are living with HIV/AIDS and that more than one in 10 of them don’t even know they are infected?

Also troubling are reports from public health officials that 6,400 county residents are aware of their diagnosis but aren’t getting the care they need.

Once every 18 hours, another resident of our county tests positive.

All of this is unacceptable. Especially because testing, medicine and life-saving care is readily available.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified HIV prevention as a winnable battle.

The Board of Supervisors agrees, and on a 5-0 vote Tuesday, Supervisors approved the “Getting to Zero” initiative to advance HIV prevention and treatment.

Chairman Ron Roberts and I brought Getting to Zero to the fore with great support from San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria. His participation in a task force laid the groundwork for the initiative.

The Ad Hoc Task Force to Address HIV Education, Prevention, Testing and Treatment included more than a dozen health professionals and community leaders.

In its report to the Board of Supervisors, the group recommended strengthening media campaigns to provide general and targeted information for people at high risk of infection.

Other recommendations included:

• Engaging private healthcare systems and medical providers to ensure the availability of HIV testing;

• Developing action plans for pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis — medical intervention can prevent HIV infection;

• Identifying people who are out of care in order to bring them into care;

• Developing specific, culturally-appropriate strategies to engage communities that are impacted disproportionately by HIV; and

• Adopting policies that focus the County of San Diego, its programs and partners on ending the HIV epidemic over the next decade.

Over an 18-month period, the task force analyzed local data and national guidelines for prevention strategies.

The panel noted significant progress in slowing the spread of HIV and deaths resulting from HIV.

Notwithstanding, “HIV continues to be a major public health challenge in San Diego County, and the epidemic has continued to grow,” says Nick Macchione, the county’s Health and Human Services Agency director.

We can and will reverse this trend.

Public health officials say the Affordable Care Act and advances in treatment and testing will go a long way toward winning the battle.

This summer, county executives will return to the Board of Supervisors with a plan to implement the recommendations of the HIV task force.

I look forward to seeing policy recommendations that move us toward getting to zero.

Thanks so much to Councilman Gloria and to Chairman Ron Roberts for their determination to win this battle.

We can be the generation to eradicate HIV in our lifetime.

Earlier this month, during his State of the County address, Chairman Roberts issued a call to action.

“Working together,” he said, “We can relegate HIV/AIDS to the history books.”

Dave Roberts represents the Third District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.  

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