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Goal of ending AIDS epidemic in New York in sight

Ellen Abbott

It’s been a little over two years since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a goal of ending the AIDS epidemic in New York state by 2020. The man who runs the state AIDS Institute says that goal is in reach, with the disease on the run.

Back in the early 1990s 15,000 new cases of AIDS were diagnosed every year in New York state. That number is down to 3,000 a year now. State AIDS Institute Director Dan O’Connell says the decrease is largely pinned to the drugs that are used to control symptoms in HIV positive individuals.

"When their viral load was pushed down to near zero, there was so little free flowing virus in them that they weren’t transmitting to their partners anymore,” said O’Connell.

In the Syracuse area, almost three-quarters of the HIV-positive individuals can’t spread the disease because of their low viral load. Statewide that number is climbing as well. So O’Connell says reaching the governor’s goal of ending AIDS by 2020 is possible. The state has taken steps to increase access to HIV testing and follow-up care, as well as increasing the availability of PrEP, a daily medication that prevents infection for people at high risk.

O’Connell says New York can be example to other states, like Florida and Texas, where the number of Aids cases is increasing.

"We want to show the rest of the country that it’s not that it can’t be done, but it can’t be done unless you’re aggressive about it. And if they choose not to spend money on their people, that’s their issuee. But at least we’re showing a model to the country that this thing is possible.”