AIDS-Free New York Within Reach
AIDS-Free New York Within Reach
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent shockwaves around the country and the globe last June with his bold announcement that New York would become the first state in the nation to end its 35-year AIDS epidemic by the year 2020. Even without a cure, new treatment and prevention tools have finally placed this goal within our reach. In February, the governor demonstrated the seriousness of his commitment to a comprehensive solution by adding funding to his 30-day budget amendments for this year.
For those of us who have been in the fight since the beginning, the governor’s new commitment brings back memories of another Gov. Cuomo—Mario. In 1983, just six months into his first term in office—and when AIDS was still viewed as a “gay disease”—Mario Cuomo signed into law a bill that created the state Department of Health’s AIDS Institute with $5.2 million in funding, along with the AIDS Advisory Council, making New York the first state in the country to launch a centralized response to the epidemic.
In each year that followed, his administration added more resources, enacted stronger civil-rights protections and enhanced programs. By the end of the governor’s tenure, New York had created the most robust HIV/AIDS prevention and care infrastructure in the world.
So it is fitting that Andrew Cuomo is now leading the way with a bold vision to build on his father’s achievements. The governor’s successful Medicaid redesign, along with expanded access to health care, new tools for HIV care, and renewed government and community commitment, make it possible to reduce the number of New Yorkers living with HIV for the first time in over three decades.
To achieve the governor’s goal, we must reduce the number of new HIV infections from approximately 3,000 this year to 750 by 2020. While no easy feat, New York has already reduced its annual rate of new HIV infections by 40 percent in the last decade, while the U.S. saw no decline at all.
To advance his plan, Cuomo has appointed an Ending the Epidemic Task Force composed of experts on HIV/AIDS from the public and private health sectors, and from community organizations. After months of intensive meetings, research and public input, the task force developed a blueprint of recommendations for meeting the governor’s mandate to reduce new infections below 750 annually, and even outlined a more ambitious proposal to “get to zero” new infections and HIV-related deaths by 2020.
If New York is to end this epidemic, we must double the number of people with HIV who receive the continuous antiretroviral therapy necessary to remain healthy and unable to transmit the virus to others; housing and transportation services for low-income people with HIV must be expanded; laws to expand access to syringes and condoms must be reformed; access to HIV-prevention tools like pre- and post-exposure chemoprophylaxis (PEP and PrEP) for those at high risk must be expanded; and minors must be able to consent to prevention and treatment.
These are just some of the aggressive yet necessary actions recommended by the governor’s task force. Achieving this ambitious goal will require a steadfast commitment by the governor and legislature to translate ideas into action.
Our expectations are high but so are the stakes. Since the governor’s announcement last June, other states, such as Washington and Minnesota, have made public commitments to end AIDS. To continue to lead this historic movement, New York must take decisive steps that can become the model for national and global action.
After decades of struggle, we know too well the devastating human costs of inaction. What’s less understood are the substantial economic impacts. The governor’s plan won’t just save lives, it will also produce significant long-term savings for the state. Current investments in health care, prevention and housing will more than pay for themselves over time by dramatically reducing new HIV infections, Medicaid spending and homelessness.
Ending AIDS will be a game-changer for the state budget. Full implementation of the task force’s recommendations is expected to generate $5.1 billion in total public health care savings around the state, including nearly $4 billion in savings from averted HIV infections. An additional $1.1 billion in savings can be generated by housing the 12,000 homeless and unstably housed people living with HIV statewide.
New York has a unique opportunity to show the world it is the visionary leader the global HIV movement has long awaited.
Charles King - president & CEO, Housing Works, Inc.; Perry Junjulas - executive director, Albany & Schenectady Damien Centers and a person living with AIDS; Mark Harrington - executive director, Treatment Action Group; and Kelsey Louie - CEO, Gay Men’s Health Cri- sis. All four were members of the Ending the Epidemic Task Force, with King serving as its community co-chair.
This article was originally published on www. CityandStateNY.com on Feb. 26, 2015.