This piece was written by Christopher Culp, PPCWNY Outreach and Education Specialist.
New York State has been one of the centers of the HIV epidemic, but it is also aiming to be one of the solutions. Through Governor Cuomo, NYS has been following a three-point plan to reduce the rates of new HIV infections and try and provide adequate health care services for those living with HIV or AIDS. The three-point plan is:
- Getting people tested, regardless of age and that testing should be a standard of care – new law suggests that patients are to be asked to opt-out of an HIV test rather than opt-in, in order to have HIV testing available to everyone.
- Getting people who test reactive into care – research has shown that if someone has linkage to care and is adherent to their medications, they are more likely to reach undetectable viral load status. At undetectable status, the risk of transmitting HIV is negligible – if you want more information, follow the U=U campaign. Basically, if someone is undetectable, they are unable to transmit the virus to anyone else.
- Linking candidates to PrEP and PEP. As a health care field, we should be educating/informing everyone about it as a way of reducing the risk of HIV infection. While the person we are talking to might not be a candidate for PrEP, they can tell others and reduce the stigma and uncertainty of PrEP within our communities. PEP, as an emergency medication, is known as a response to an occupational exposure, but is now also available to anyone through an emergency room.
PrEP is a biomedical intervention that can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 92% - that’s a huge number. As of this writing, only three patients who have been adherent to the daily pill have been tested as reactive for HIV. Two were cases of an HIV resistant strain to Truvada, the pill currently used as PrEP. The third involved many complications. Still, with PrEP being around for a few years, these are great results! Yet, PrEP has not been incorporated into many small practices, safer sex discussions, and is very rarely part of school education. Ending the Epidemic is looking to change this and we would be more than welcome to come and train your coworkers and staff!
If you’re interested in finding out more, have questions, or would like to get more involved with the community work, please follow Ending the Epidemic WNY on Facebook and Instagram or www.endhivwny.com - this group is Western New York’s efforts in meeting our goals.
Recently, we just had a great event where we did HIV testing in spare rooms in local barbershops and even got news coverage at WBLK and Spectrum News. We are meeting people where they are at and making sure that they get accurate information and services. ETE WNY has also been working on achieving a higher housing allowance cap so that anyone in treatment is able to afford stable housing, one of the most basic needs that must be met for a person to flourish in this world. The new state budget allows for this, but it is not currently a mandate.
Lastly, ETE’s education efforts are in full swing with all of CAPP’s programs (Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Grant), of which PPCWNY is one of the providers of education through Erie and Niagara Counties. We teach Be Proud! Be Responsible!, an evidenced based program that focuses on HIV, condom negotiation and safer sex practices over the course of seven sessions. We talk to youth about HIV, transmission, testing, PrEP, PEP and U=U in order to give youth information to make decisions and have ownership over their sexual and reproductive health.