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.