Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS
VIDEO: NY Health Commish Commits to AIDS-Free NYS 2020; HW CEO Praises “Down Payment” on End of AIDS
Posted by Mikola De Roo , March 31, 2014
“U”=“Undetectable”: HIV Viral Suppression as a Major Key to an AIDS-Free New York
Signs of early springtime after a long, hard winter were budding in Albany on March 19, 2014, when VOCAL-NY brought together hundreds of people living with HIV and activists and allies from more than a dozen other AIDS/HIV service organizations—Housing Works, Treatment Action Group (TAG), and ACRIA among them—for a legislative rally at the state Capitol. Numerous AIDS community advocates and Senate and Assembly leaders spoke at the gathering, including Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel Squadron and Assembly Members Deborah Glick and Robert Rodriguez, but the most notable remarks were made by New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, who outlined a roadmap to virtually eliminate AIDS in New York by 2020 and underscored the state’s commitment to make good on that goal.
A STATE VISION FOR AIDS-FREE NEW YORK IN 2020
Describing the long, difficult arc of progress in combating AIDS over the past 30 years, Shah advocated for concrete strategies and benchmarks that will enable New York to accelerate that trajectory dramatically by the end of the decade:
We’ve reached a point today…where both domestically in America and internationally we can start to see the horizon to the AIDS epidemic, and New York is going to be a leader in making that happen. In 1993 at the height of the epidemic, 15,000 New Yorkers were diagnosed with HIV. In 2012, that number had shrunk to 3,400. By 2020, we want to see that number shrink even smaller to fewer than 700, and what we will do to achieve that will be the international model….
Dr. Nirav Shah and the State Plan for an AIDS-Free New York in 2020
Reducing the annual new infection rate to that degree, asserted Health Commissioner Shah, means that AIDS rates in New York will be so low, it will effectively no longer be an epidemic. A linchpin in reaching that target of fewer than 700 new HIV infections by 2020 is HIV treatment access, and again, here Shah was the bearer of more concrete good news: The state of New York has negotiated a deal with Gilead, the largest manufacturer of anti-retrovirals to treat HIV, to purchase those drugs in bulk at reduced cost in order to make them universally available to Medicaid patients who need them. The state is also currently pursuing comparable negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies.
Directly on the heels of Shah’s encouraging speech, later this week the legislature is expected to approve the long-awaited “30% rent cap,” a protection for affordable and stable housing that would ensure that poor individuals and families living with AIDS and HIV would have their rents capped at no more than 30% of their income.
OTHER NECESSARY KEYS TO AN AIDS-FREE NEW YORK: “U”=“UNDETECTABLE”
Housing Works CEO Charles King Describing How We Get to an AIDS-Free New York
In a rousing follow-up speech (see below for a link to a full transcript), Housing Works CEO Charles King responded to the state’s commitments with optimism and enthusiasm, observing that these new solutions represent a necessary shift in strategy by government and activists alike. “Today is a great day to end the AIDS epidemic!…We didn’t come to Albany today just ask for some money for some little somethin’-somethin’ more to the budget or to plead that some little somethin’-somethin’ not be cut from it,” said King. “We’re here today calling for a down payment on a plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York State by 2020.”King also said, however, that even a state government plan that included everything New York AIDS activists have been asking for—including HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) benefits for all poor New Yorkers living with HIV (as opposed to the current eligibility, which is limited to those with an AIDS diagnosis), an end to the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution, and equal rights for transgender people—wouldn’t be enough. King argued that a genuine end to the epidemic would demand strong leadership from everyone, “especially those of us who are living with the virus,” and would hinge on two things: • an end to the stigma of HIV through living openly about HIV-positive status • those with HIV becoming “undetectable”—virally suppressed through effective treatment
According to King, because stigma plays on shame, fighting HIV stigma is contingent not only on the passage of anti-discrimination laws but also on those living with the virus coming out to others about their HIV-positive status. Here King used himself as a prime example:
The biggest driver of the AIDS epidemic here in New York State today is stigma….I sero-converted 14 and half years ago, but I didn’t come out about my HIV status until…10 years ago. Why? Because I thought I knew what people were going to say… It wasn’t until I started coming out and telling people that I was HIV-positive that I realized that it didn’t matter whether other people were saying those things or not. That was what I was saying to myself in my own head. And it was only when I realized that that I remembered that everything that happens to us has potential purpose… That is why I can stand before you today and say: “I am proud to be exactly the person you now see. Yes, I have HIV, but HIV can’t take me!”….And that, my friends, is how we bring an end to stigma.
King went on to outline what being “undetectable” as an HIV-positive person means: that every single HIV-positive person is taking ARV medication to suppress the virus completely, allowing their immune systems to function. The medical results of complete viral suppression are that those with HIV can live long and healthy lives and that it also becomes virtually impossible for them to pass the HIV virus on to anyone else.
King also used the occasion to announce that when it comes to the goal of having those with HIV becoming virally suppressed, Housing Works would be walking the walking, not just talking the talk. Housing Works has recently launched a voluntary internal pilot program called “The Undetectables” to assist its HIV-positive clients in achieving and maintaining viral suppression. In announcing the program, King noted, “That phrase, ‘The Undetectables’ sounds like you are talking about a group of superheroes. And that’s because we are. You see, when you become undetectable you are guaranteeing that no one else can get HIV from you, and in doing so, you are single-handedly bringing an end to the AIDS epidemic!”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
• You can help by knowing your own HIV status. If you are unaware of your status, get tested. Call one of our healthcare centers today for more information.
• You can help by supporting our advocacy work and donating to Housing Works & The Undetectables pilot program today!
Follow Housing Works on Twitter, @housingworks
Additional Sources and Media Coverage
• CBS Albany video segment, “Activists Gather to Urge Action on AIDS,” March 19, 2004
• Laura Nahmias, “Shah Outlines Plan to End New York’s AIDS Epidemic,” Capital New York, March 19, 2004
• Claire Hughes, “NY Deal with Drug Maker Paves Way for Plan to End HIV,” Times Union, March 19, 2004
• Claire Hughes, “State Seals Deal with HIV Drugmaker, Sets Goal for 2020,” Times Union blog, March 19, 2004
• Video of New York State Health Commissioner Shah’s Speech, VOCAL-NY End of AIDS Rally, March 19, 2014
• Video of Housing Works CEO Charles King’s Speech, VOCAL-NY End of AIDS Rally, March 19, 2014
• Full downloadable transcript of March 19, 2014, Speech by Housing Works CEO Charles King
Help us advocate for the rights of all people living with HIV/AIDS