Our Best Chance to End the AIDS Epidemic is NOW! Roundtable of AIDS specialists convene for Legislative Hearing

by Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, 64th District

The primary obstacles to ending the AIDS epidemic are no longer scientific, they are structural.

In the last 5 years, scientific breakthroughs in AIDS research have provided remarkable results. Testing methods can now detect the HIV virus months earlier than before. Preventive medication, such as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), has been clinically shown to reduce the likelihood of infection by up to 92%.  Additionally, the “Berlin patient”, Timothy Brown, gave the world hope when an experimental bone marrow transplant eradicated the virus from his body.

But with all of this new research and medication, hundreds of individuals will still be infected with the disease this year. Recent data provided by the San Francisco Aids Foundation found that in California, there were 5,814 new HIV cases in 2012. While this is a tremendous decrease from the previous decades, it still remains well above the audacious goals being set by groups around the world: ending the epidemic, once and for all.

In 2010, the White House released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), which was again updated this year. Other states have adopted similar plans, and there is a global effort to make a push towards ending the epidemic by 2030. All these plans point to these next five years as a critical time in achieving that goal. We have to accelerate our attack on this disease, or risk the virus coming back even stronger.

California normally sets the stage for others to follow, but it’s been over five years since the NHAS was released, and we still do not have a state plan. With the geographic and ethnic diversity – not to mention the overall size – we cannot mimic what others have done. We need our own approach.

As Chair of the Select Committee on Infectious Diseases in High Risk Disadvantaged Areas, I am putting together a collaborative hearing this Friday with leading healthcare providers, nonprofit groups, and top research scientists. Our goal is to identify the remaining barriers to achieving what the San Francisco “Getting to Zero” campaign set out to do: zero new infections, zero deaths, and zero stigma in California.

The ideas we discuss will come with me back to Sacramento, so the Legislature can consider how to create a structure that embraces the needs identified. Whether it is more funding to help specific high risk groups, or building an information sharing network between organizations, we need to develop a systematic approach that provides early and comprehensive HIV care to all Californians.

Growing up in one of the most high risk areas for AIDS during the 1980s, it is incredible to think we may finally be able to win the battle against a disease that took so many lives. If we fail to act now, and let this chance slip away, we will have squandered not only millions of dollars and hours of research, but the millions of lives lost along the way.