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HIV prevention focus moves to medication

World Bank Photo Collection

Today is World AIDS Day. The director of the Designated AIDS Center at Upstate is optimistic that the state will reach its goal of dramatically reducing the number of new HIV infections across the state.  

In October, New York state announced a target of reducing the number of new HIV infections to 750 per year. Right now there are 3,000 new diagnoses reported every year in New York State.

Center director Elizabeth Reddy says the recent state initiative focuses on testing, treating and preventing the disease. Outreach to at-risk communities is key to getting people continually tested, and then into treatment.  

But Reddy says prevention now has moved beyond an emphasis on condoms.

“The problem is that people don’t often use them. So what we’ve seen in this country overall, is that we’ve not had a dramatic reduction in infections over the last ten years, so we’ve been able to place the evidence that says just using condoms is not enough, and we need some additional tools," said Reddy.

Those tools are prophylactic drugs, like a recently-approved drug called Truvada, that can prevent the disease among high risk people.

“We have Truvada. It’s a very well-tolerated medication. For most people it has no side effects. It has low risks associated with it,” said Reddy. “And if you take it regularly, it’s highly effective in preventing H-I-V.” 

Reddy says the drugs are covered by health insurance, and so part of the center’s goal now is to get people signed up with insurance during the latest New York State of Health open enrollment period.

“Because in New York state we have excellent uptake of the Affordable Care Act, this is really the time, so we’re in the open enrollment season. And this medication is covered by insurance. It’s covered by Medicaid and we’ve never run into insurance that’s not covering it.”

The Designated AIDS Center monitors an average of 1,000 HIV positive residents in a 15-county area.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.