In March, as the public was just beginning to become familiar with COVID-19, The Center for Community Solutions kicked-off an important project seeking to end another long-standing epidemic: HIV/AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV and more than 700,000 people with AIDS have died since the epidemic began nearly four decades ago. Despite effective treatments and evidenced-based solutions to prevent the spread of the disease, efforts to reduce further infections have stalled. About 40,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with HIV each year, including nearly 1,000 Ohioans.
About 40,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with HIV each year, including nearly 1,000 Ohioans.
A national plan to end the HIV epidemic was launched last year. Its goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent by 2025 and by at least 90 percent over the next decade. Work is underway in communities across the country to compiling information about the current HIV situation in one place and to select and support strategies that will reduce infections. Half of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. happen in Washington, D.C., San Juan, Puerto Rico, and 48 counties across the country. Three of those counties in are Ohio: Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Hamilton. These three counties represented nearly 60 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2018. Under the national plan President Donald Trump announced in 2019, resources are targeted to these geographic areas where most HIV transmissions occur.
Community Solutions has worked on HIV/AIDS issues since the beginning of the epidemic and remains deeply engaged with those in the HIV/AIDS community by housing the AIDS Funding Collaborative and playing a leadership role in Ohio’s integrated HIV plan. We were selected by the Ohio Department of Health to work with local representatives in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties for their Ending the HIV Epidemic Plans. For the past several months we have worked largely behind-the-scenes to examine data, create advisory committees, and plan outreach activities. We are pleased to partner not only with the Ohio Department of Health, but with Columbus Public Health, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Hamilton County Public Health, Caracole – the Greater Cincinnati, tristate region’s nonprofit AIDS service organization – and many others on this important work.
It is ironic that our work to end one epidemic was ramping up just as a new pandemic was beginning.
It is ironic that our work to end one epidemic was ramping up just as a new pandemic was beginning. Due to coronavirus, and the need to remain distanced, our original plan to hold large, in-person gatherings has been derailed. All convenings will now take place virtually. We are working to develop and implement strategies to reach people who are most at-risk for contracting HIV, and those living with HIV who are not currently connected to care. Stakeholder conversations will begin to take place in the three counties in the coming weeks. Please visit CommunitySolutions.com/resources/ending-the-epidemic for updated information. We are working hard to get input from people living with HIV/AIDS and those who are at greatest risk for contracting the disease.
Moving everything from in-person to virtual has also presented some opportunities. For example, we are planning to hold what we believe will be the first statewide focus group to hear from transgender people. We have also been able to direct funding away from travel and food expenses and are now able to use those funds to provide additional incentives to compensate community members for their time.
We have our work cut out for us in the months and years ahead.
The final Ending the HIV Epidemic Plan for each jurisdiction must be submitted to the CDC by the end of 2020. Although local planning has always been part of the fight against HIV, the Ending the Epidemic process means moving past traditional silos to create plans that are unique to each area’s needs and reflect the voices of those who are most impacted. These plans will provide much-needed road maps for each of the three counties, and we are excited to see them develop and reflect local nuances and universal truths. We have our work cut out for us in the months and years ahead.