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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Governor Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force Completes Plan to End AIDS in NY State by 2020

– Activists, service providers, public health professionals hail governor’s leadership, call on legislators and local governments to join forces to end the epidemic –

ALBANY, NY – JANUARY 13, 2015.  Today the Ending the Epidemic Task Force, convened by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) at the behest of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, completed its comprehensive, rigorous, and unprecedented Plan to End AIDS in New York State by 2020.

Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, who co-chaired the task force with Gus Birkhead of the DOH’s AIDS Institute, stated, “Governor Andrew Cuomo, working with the community, the task force, and the New York City and State health departments, has created a visionary package that, if implemented, has the potential to end the AIDS epidemic in the state by 2020. Ending New York’s epidemic means reducing new HIV infections from over 3,000 last year to under 750 in 2020 and ending HIV-related deaths. Reaching these goals will require dramatic scale-up of high-quality combination HIV prevention, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), universal health coverage and primary care, scaled-up HIV testing, and full uptake of HIV treatment, to enable at least 85 percent of HIV-positive New Yorkers to achieve and sustain optimal health through an undetectable viral load.”

Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group (TAG), who co-chaired the task force’s Data Committee, stated, “The governor has allowed the task force to work in freedom. We were never muzzled or told not to include something. The governor has already taken steps we were planning on recommending, such as requiring Medicaid and private insurance coverage for transgender health care. Now it will be up to the state legislature and local leaders to provide the support and necessary resources to achieve the vision laid out by Governor Cuomo and the task force.”

Perry Junjulas, executive director of the Albany and Schenectady Damien Centers, who co-chaired the task force’s Housing and Supportive Services Committee, said, “A key part of the Plan is to broaden essential HIV-related services—safe housing, transportation, and food—to all low-income, HIV-positive New Yorkers, including the 30 percent affordable housing protection jointly enacted last year for New York City by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. Our proposal also includes increasing the eligibility for these services for low-income, HIV-positive persons in the City. Extending these needed supports statewide will require new resources and legislative actions, but mobilizing now will save lives and money down the road and play a crucial role in ending the epidemic.”

Building on Governor Cuomo’s three-part “Bending the Curve” initiative, launched on June 29, 2014, the DOH commissioned the task force on October 14, 2014, to develop and issue an executive plan for New York State to achieve the stated goals of:

  • “Identifying persons with HIV who remain undiagnosed and linking them to health care;
  • Linking and retaining persons diagnosed with HIV to health care and getting them on anti-HIV therapy to maximize HIV virus suppression so they remain healthy and prevent further transmission; and
  • Facilitating access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk persons to keep them HIV negative.”

Made up of over 70 activists, health service providers, researchers, and public health professionals from around the state, the task force met intensively over the past four months, carefully reviewing over 300 recommendations to craft its comprehensive recommendations to the governor, the state legislature, state agencies, county and city governments, as well as health providers, the private sector, and community-based organizations.

Harlem United vice president for policy and advocacy and task force member Kimberleigh J. Smith, said, “The task force has been a great model for using the best of what we know to create a comprehensive plan of action to end AIDS. New approaches to HIV prevention—like PrEP—were elevated from the outset. We’re excited to deliver a plan to create greater access to, and awareness of, PrEP—with bolstered education and outreach; initiatives to deliver PrEP to women, transgender individuals, young people, and gay men of color; and a state drug assistance program that will defray the cost of care. But the plan doesn’t stop there. It puts forth progressive prevention interventions that acknowledge the realities of people’s lives and the structural drivers of HIV, such as unstable housing, stigma, lack of jobs and economic insecurity.”

Task force member Reverend Moon Hawk River Stone, an internationally recognized expert in transgender care, stated, “What really excited me was seeing people from all around the state work together across community, professional, or identity lines to create a truly integrated HIV/AIDS plan to meet the needs of all communities.” Stone, who lives in Schenectady, is working to spur integration of the Plan into its local government programs. “But we need state legislative support,” Stone said. “For example, while we all hail Governor Cuomo’s leadership in transgender health, the state needs to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, to bring an end to stigma and discrimination experienced by this population, which has among the highest rates of HIV infection.”

Jim Eigo of ACT UP/New York, a member of the task force’s Prevention Committee, said, “The state, the City, and the HIV community have effectively developed the first plan anywhere to bring the AIDS epidemic to a close. We will not achieve success until every New Yorker has the tools, health care access, information, coverage, and social support services needed to stay HIV-negative or, if already HIV-positive, to stay healthy and unable to further transmit HIV to others. The real work begins now, turning this vision into a reality, community by community.”

As Governor Cuomo reaffirmed in his inaugural address on January 1, 2015: “We set a national standard and committed this state to be the first state in the nation to end the AIDS epidemic in the next decade, and we’re going to do it.”

“We look forward to working with the governor, the state legislature, Mayor de Blasio, the state and local health departments, health and service providers, researchers, the private sector, and the community over the coming six years to end the epidemic,” said Housing Works’ King. “With the momentum, expertise, and commitment built up in this state over the past 33 years of the AIDS pandemic, and the intensive activism and partnership among all stakeholders over this last year, we can move forward together into the epidemic endgame.”

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