CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The U.S. government announced a plan to reduce the number of new HIV infections by 90 percent in the next 10 years.
The plan is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America." It will initially be rolled out in 50 locations; Mecklenburg County is one of those locations.
Mecklenburg County was chosen because of its high rates of HIV infections. According to the Mecklenburg County Health Department, there are nearly 7,000 people living with HIV in Mecklenburg County. Of those 7,000 people, they estimate about 700 people do not know they are infected.
The national plan is very similar to Mecklenburg County’s “Getting to Zero Plan” which was launched in 2018. It focuses on three actions: testing for HIV, prevention, and treatment.
Mecklenburg County’s HIV and STD Services Health Manager Matt Jenkins says the county is planning to launch a campaign in hopes of getting more people tested for HIV. He says anyone age 13 to 64 should be tested for HIV at least once in their life. They plan to offer testing in nontraditional locations in hopes of getting more people tested. For example, he says a person could send a text and a counselor would meet the patient wherever they are, even at a night club or their house.
“Meeting people where they’re most comfortable. Not everyone wants to come into a provider’s office or even to the health department, so we are looking at innovative ways to test individuals,” Jenkins said.
The second step is preventing those who are at high risk of HIV from getting the virus. Jenkins says a daily pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP can be taken to protect those at high risk of getting HIV. According to the Health Department, it reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent.
PrEP is underutilized in Mecklenburg County which is why they’ve started a pilot program to provide more access to the medication for the uninsured. For more information click here: https://www.mecknc.gov/HealthDepartment/CDControl/HIVSTDSurveillance/Pages/PrEP.aspx
The final step is known as TasP or Treatment as Prevention. Jenkins says for people who are diagnosed with HIV, they need to take medication to get the virus under control so they do not expose others.
“As soon as an individual is newly diagnosed, we want to link them to a care provider to get them on medication as soon as possible,” Jenkins said.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department is beginning the implementation of these three action steps in the coming year. Jenkins says the nation-wide program will help locally. The Health Department has already applied for federal funding in hopes of reducing HIV rates in the future.
For more information on the nation-wide plan click here: https://www.cdc.gov/endhiv/index.html
For information on Mecklenburg County’s Getting to Zero plan click here: https://www.mecknc.gov/HealthDepartment/CDControl/HIVSTDSurveillance/Documents/Getting%20to%20Zero%20Mecklenburg.pdf