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133 Organizations Call on Governor Newsom, Legislature to Initiate Bold Strategy to End the HIV, HCV, STD Epidemics

March 6, 2019—Today 133 organizations released a community consensus statement calling on Governor Newsom and the California Legislature to take immediate action to address the state’s alarming epidemics of HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The statement urges California’s top elected officials to convene a statewide task force charged with developing and implementing a strategy to end the HIV, HCV, and STD epidemics.

“California is at an unprecedented moment in response to HIV, HCV, and STDs. With highly effective treatments and proven prevention tools, California can now dramatically reduce new transmissions, improve the health of people living with these conditions, and bring these epidemics to an end,” the statement reads. “Bold action is needed to integrate our response to these epidemics and eliminate health disparities and inequities.”

“California has an opportunity to lead the nation and develop the first statewide strategy to simultaneously address HIV, HCV, and STDs,” said Craig E. Thompson, CEO of APLA Health. “Governor Newsom showed decisive leadership in endorsing a statewide initiative to end the HIV and HCV epidemics during his campaign. We are eager to partner with him to fulfill that commitment and urge his administration to address California’s skyrocketing STD rates as part of this effort.”

HIV, HCV, and STDs in California are an urgent public health crisis. More than 5,000 Californians are newly diagnosed with HIV each year—more than any other state in the nation—and more than 400,000 California residents are currently living with HCV. There were more than 300,000 reported STD cases in California in 2017, a 45 percent increase since 2013. These epidemics are interrelated and impact many of California’s most disadvantaged communities, including gay and bisexual men, transgender individuals, Black and Latinx communities, women, youth, and people who use drugs.

“California must no longer respond to its HIV, HCV, and STD epidemics as if they are distinct public health crises. These epidemics stem from the same root causes: lack of access to healthcare and prevention services, stigma and institutional bias, and an insufficient response from our public health system,” said Joe Hollendoner, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “We are calling on Governor Newsom and the State Legislature to take the bold action necessary to protect and promote the health of all Californians, especially those communities which continue to experience disproportionate rates of infections, and to be a model for the rest of the country for addressing these syndemics.”

“We have the tools we need to end the HIV, HCV, and STD epidemics in California,” said Lestian McNeal, National Policy & Program Coordinator of Black AIDS Institute. “Now is the time for Governor Newsom and California’s elected officials to launch this important public health initiative and ensure that communities most heavily impacted by these epidemics get the support and resources they need.”

States, counties, and cities across the country are developing and implementing plans to end the HIV and HCV epidemics. In New York State, for example, Governor Cuomo established a task force to create a plan to end AIDS as an epidemic by 2020. Over the past four years, the state has increased funding for strategies developed by the task force and new HIV diagnoses have decreased 20 percent (new HIV diagnoses in California declined by less than 3 percent from 2012 to 2016). Last year, Governor Cuomo announced a statewide strategy to eliminate HCV, including the establishment of an HCV elimination task force.

“While California has done an excellent job of expanding health coverage and implementing innovative new models in the healthcare delivery system, the state is lagging behind other jurisdictions in effectively addressing HIV, HCV, and STDs,” said Darrel Cummings, Chief of Staff of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “The public health efforts necessary to effectively address these epidemics are underfunded and not strategically aligned toward an overall statewide strategy.”

“Alameda County has the strategies to combat HIV and HCV among vulnerable populations in our communities. There’s minimal support,” said Loris A. Mattox, Executive Director of HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County. “Public Health workers can no longer be expected to make an impact with minimal resources. We’re at a prime and critical time to advance our efforts and get in front of the HIV and HCV epidemics, and establish a realistic path to zero new infections.”

“Desert AIDS Project is dedicated to ending HIV and HCV infections and reducing the escalating STD infection rate in the greater Palm Springs area,” said Carl Baker, Director of Legal & Legislative Affairs of Desert AIDS Project. “According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have been identified as two of the forty-eight highest burdened counties with HIV in the country. Desert AIDS Project is focused on community outreach, prevention, testing, and linkage to care, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.”

The statement describes a number of tools that are now available to significantly reduce new transmissions of HIV, HCV, and STDs. These tools include:

  • Highly effective antiretroviral therapy, which enables people living with HIV to maintain optimal health and eliminates new transmissions if viral loads are sustained at undetectable levels (Undetectable=Untransmittable);
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)—medications that can be taken by HIV-negative individuals to nearly eliminate their risk of acquiring HIV;
  • Powerful new HCV drugs that can cure the vast majority of people in as little as eight to twelve weeks and prevent further transmission to others;
  • Efficient STD screening, rapid treatment, and partner services that can dramatically reduce their further spread and debilitating side effects; and
  • Harm reduction services, including syringe exchange, medication assisted therapy, and supervised consumption services.

“Not only are we ready to assist in making these resources more accessible in our communities, but our communities are ready to access these resources as soon as they are available,” said Miss Ian Callaghan, Executive Director of San Francisco Drug Users’ Union.

“Science is moving faster than policy, and already marginalized communities are being left behind,” said Rev. Rob Newells, Executive Director of APEB. “Governor Newsom needs to make establishing a task force and developing an integrated statewide plan a top priority. It’s low-hanging fruit.”

A coalition of public health and community leaders—End the Epidemics: Californians Mobilizing to End HIV, HCV, and STDs—is requesting $2 million to establish the task force. The task force would be charged with setting targets for ending the HIV, HCV, and STD epidemics and identifying recommended programs, policies, strategies, and funding for achieving these targets. The task force would include participation from healthcare providers, health plans, government and public health officials, community-based organizations, researchers, and individuals most impacted by these conditions.

The statement concludes, “Visionary leadership, strategic planning, and targeted new resources will be required to achieve these goals. We respectfully ask Governor Newsom and the California Legislature to empower a working group of key stakeholders as soon as possible to initiate and implement California’s strategy to end the HIV, HCV, and STD epidemics. We look forward to working together to improve the health of all Californians.”