SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) – The initiative to end the AIDS epidemic in New York state by the end of 2020 is making progress. Recent data show new HIV diagnoses last year dropped 11%. But while the instance of the disease is trending down, there are still some challenges to reaching that goal in central and northern New York.
The two biggest reasons for a decrease in HIV diagnoses, according to ACR Health Executive Director Wil Murtaugh, is the use of an HIV prevention medication called PrEP, as well as successful medications that reduce the viral load of individuals who are HIV positive.
“Those two things are really powerful. Prevention and also prevention from HIV positive people. We do have 112,000 with HIV living in this state. So that’s a lot of people with HIV. We want to make sure all these people are linked to their medicine so they can be safe and not give this virus to anyone.”
While the numbers are encouraging, Murtaugh admits upstate is lagging downstate in fighting the epidemic. Part of it is the difficulty reaching young homeless people. And there’s also the vast geographical area that’s difficult to serve.
Right now, ACR Health has expanded access to PrEp to its Syracuse clinic, but that is several miles away for clients from some of the more remote sections of the nine-county region served by the agency.
“We still have some work to do to go from 2,500 cases down to 750. It’s a lot of work and it’s statewide. And upstate’s more rural, and what we’ve found is there’s limited access. So having another clinic available to do this is going to be helpful,” said Murtaugh.
Seth Thompson, an ACR Health clinic client who uses PrEP in Syracuse for peace of mind, said there’s also another issue: a stigma about the disease that remains almost 40 years after it was discovered.
“If you can end the stigma and get people in, people are going to take care of themselves,” Thompson said. “It’s about getting past the stigma. That’s the hardest thing.”