The year 2016 could go down in history as the pivotal year in New York’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Nearly thirty-five years after The New York Times reported the first cases of what would later be recognized as AIDS, New York State is poised to become the first jurisdiction in the world to end its HIV epidemic, even without a cure, by dramatically reducing new infections and ending deaths from AIDS.
Thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo and our Legislative partners, New York has developed a viable plan that, if implemented, will end our AIDS epidemic by the year 2020. As a New Yorker, a person with AIDS, and resident of our state capital in Albany, I have never been prouder.
Now the real work begins. For the plan to succeed, every New York community, including our upstate Capital Region, must match Cuomo’s commitment with renewed energy, support, and action.
Cuomo launched New York’s Ending the Epidemic initiative in 2014 by announcing a three-point plan to expand HIV testing, treatment, and prevention to decrease new HIV infections from 3,000 a year in 2013 to under 750 by 2020. He pointed out that we have the tools: Current antiretroviral medications can keep HIV-positive persons healthy and stop ongoing transmission of the virus to others, and when taken as prevention, they can protect those at highest risk of HIV infection. We now must work to remove barriers to HIV treatment and prevention so all New Yorkers can benefit equally from these advances.
In April 2015, Cuomo endorsed the Ending the Epidemic Blueprint, created by a task force of experts, consisting of 30 recommendations. As co-chair of the Housing & Supportive Services Committee of the task force, I fully recognize that housing, food, and other support services are a critical key component to reaching our goal.
Last month, the governor made history again by pledging to include $200 million in the budget to implement the Blueprint. This commitment could go a long way to support our efforts to end HIV/AIDS in the Capital Region, allowing for expanded housing, food, transportation, and other critical services for New Yorkers with HIV, as well as treatment and prevention strategies targeted to reach those most in need. The Albany & Schenectady Damien Centers serve people with HIV every day and with stable housing, nutrition, support, and affordable care, our community members can live long and full lives. We also know that better access to new prevention tools—including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill that protects against HIV transmission—is highly effective for those at greatest risk, including young persons, who are becoming infected at alarming rates locally in the Capital Region.
It is crucial to ensure that Cuomo’s $200 million allocation to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York is fully supported in the final budget. This wise public investment will improve HIV health outcomes and prevent thousands of new infections, saving both lives and billions in avoided health care costs.
With the governor’s budget commitment, we in the Capital Region will have the tools, a Blueprint, and the resources needed to end our AIDS epidemic. The rest is up to us. There is much work to be done in 2016, but together we can achieve an AIDS-free New York by 2020.
The following op-ed by Damien Center Executive Director, Perry Junjulas, was published in the January 15, 2016 edition of the Times Union under the title, "N.Y. Poised to End HIV Epidemic"
The Damien Center's winter newsletter is now online! Click "read more" below to see what's been happening at the Center over these last few months:
Our New York State Government successes in 2015 to help us reduce new HIV infections and stop deaths from AIDS
A message from our ED, Perry Junjulas:
Congratulations to Governor Cuomo on his historic efforts in 2015 to End the AIDS Epidemic in NYS. This progress makes me proud to be a New Yorker who is also living with AIDS. The Damien Centers will continue to work with the Governor and the Legislature in 2016 to increase our efforts in the upstate New York Capital Region to reduce new HIV infections and stop deaths from AIDS.
Below is an excerpt from the Governor’s recently released State of Opportunity, End of Year Report 2015 (pages 28-29). Full report is found at: https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EOY_Report.pdf
Strengthening Our State’s Healthcare System
Ending the AIDS Epidemic in New York State: On World AIDS Day, Governor Cuomo announced $200 million in new funding towards HIV/AIDS efforts, supplementing the $2.5 billion the state currently directs towards HIV/AIDS. In 2014, the Governor announced a plan to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York State with the goal of decreasing new HIV infections to 750 per year by 2020 and achieving our first ever decrease in HIV prevalence.
Notable achievements include: