AIDS Activist Envisions End To Epidemic

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Earlier this month, New York announced the largest decrease in HIV diagnoses since the state started the “Ending the Epidemic” initiative. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s goal is to end the epidemic by 2020.

John Barry, Executive Director of the Southern Tier Aids Program (STAP), said that doesn’t mean there will be no new cases.

“What the governor means when he says it will no longer be an epidemic is that there will be less than 750 infections per year in New York State,” Barry explained.

John Barry outside of STAP offices. Sarah Gager/WSKG News

Barry believes that is achievable.

One thing contributing to the decline in infections is increased accessibility to PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a preventative drug. Starting in January, New York health insurers will be required to cover it without a co-pay.

There has also been an effort to test more people. Out of hundreds of people tested, Barry said his program identifies two to six new infections per year. He finds that more people test positive for other STDs, which opens up a conversation about safe sex and proper condom use.

Safer sex means fewer infections, but Barry says it doesn’t necessarily mean lower treatment costs.

“I suspect that over time the funding will shift into the areas where there’s still need, like we’ve had some expansions in the amount of money for housing to help people who are living with the disease,” Barry said. “Because we know that’s one of the best ways to keep people healthy is to make sure they have stable housing.”

Barry said there are other efforts to keep people safe through syringe exchange programs. STAP is also pushing for a supervised injection pilot project in Ithaca.