Hundreds Gather in Albany to Mark Launch of Plan to End AIDS in NY by 2020

CONTACTS: Jennifer Flynn, 917-517-5202, jennifer@vocal-ny.org, or Mikola De Roo, 347-585-6051, m.deroo@housingworks.org

Building off Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, coalition recommends ambitious plan to dramatically decrease new infections, improve health of people with HIV/AIDS, and cut healthcare costs.

Immediate changes to laws and policies, and new investment in HIV services, are crucial to fulfilling the goals of the plan.

Albany, NY – Hundreds of activists from around New York State representing the End AIDS NY 2020 Coalition rallied at the Capitol today to call for the State to implement recommendations recently delivered to Governor Cuomo by a task force he established last year. More than a dozen state elected officials spoke at the town hall-style event.

Charles King, CEO of Housing Works and Co-Chair of the Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force called for action: “We now have a blueprint that clearly spells out the steps New York State needs to take to bring an end to AIDS as an epidemic,” said King. “We are calling on both houses of the legislature and Governor Cuomo to all do their part to see that the blueprint is fully implemented.”

“From ending homelessness among people living with HIV and at-risk LGBT youth, to making harm reduction services and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis universally available, to ending discrimination against transgender New Yorkers, ending the criminalization of condoms, and ensuring that everyone with HIV can receive treatment, we’re clear about what needs to happen,” said Jennifer Flynn, Executive Director of VOCAL New York and a member of the Ending the Epidemic Task Force.

New York is home to 154,000 people living with HIV (PLWH). It has been at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic from its beginning over three decades ago. After major advances in science on treatment as prevention and the introduction of new prevention tools, the Coalition contends that ending AIDS as an epidemic is both possible and an ethical imperative. The Coalition, composed of many groups that participated in the governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, has put forward a legislative and budget blueprint that would close gaps in HIV prevention, treatment, and supportive services. Ultimately, the blueprint’s goals include eliminating AIDS diagnoses and reducing new infections from more than 3,000 statewide today to less than 750 by 2020.

Senator Brad Hoylman highlighted housing issues as a central theme of the blueprint: “It’s imperative that we enact the commonsense recommendations that Governor Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force has developed, including ensuring that all low-income New Yorkers with HIV or AIDS have access to stable housing and other support services needed to keep them healthy and reduce their risk of transmission. Implementing the Task Force’s recommendations would significantly reduce the rate of infections, generate over $5 billion in healthcare savings, and put New York on a path toward once and for all eradicating HIV/AIDS.”

A widely supported recommendation is to expand New York City’s policy of providing housing, nutrition, and transportation assistance to low-income residents living with advanced HIV disease to instead cover all low-income New Yorkers living with HIV statewide. In addition, the amount that public assistance recipients would pay toward their rent would be capped to 30% of their income. Similarly, the Coalition has prioritized expanded shelter beds and permanent housing for homeless LGBT and other youth, populations at especially high risk of HIV infection and progression to AIDS.

“For people living with AIDS in Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Garden City, Poughkeepsie, the most stable housing is prison or a hospital bed.  We need to expand the enhanced rental assistance, food and transportation allowance statewide to all HIV-positive New Yorkers,” said Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson.

Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who initially proposed the State’s needle exchange program and who currently sponsors a bill to end the use of condoms as evidence in criminal proceedings, highlighted the broader role of harm reduction services in ending the HIV epidemic. “For more than 20 years, New York has been a leader in syringe exchange and related harm reduction services, and we’ve made great progress in reducing new HIV infections among people who use drugs,” said Senator Montgomery. “The sad truth, however, is that we still have huge gaps in access to harm reduction services. It’s time for New York to fully support harm reduction, not only to end the HIV epidemic but also to prevent hepatitis C, overdose, and other conditions that have become leading causes of death for people living with HIV.”

“New York State has made tremendous strides in reducing the incidence of HIV and AIDS,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. Referring to legislation he recently introduced, Assembly Member Gottfried said that “by fully legalizing syringe possession and strengthening the law for access to clean syringes, and with additional funding for the End to AIDS plan, we can more fully achieve the goal of ending the epidemic in New York State.”

“New York has the medical tools and willpower to establish itself as a leader in the eradication of AIDS. Unfortunately, outdated laws still stand in the way of many getting access to the harm reduction services they need to avoid contracting HIV,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera, the Senate sponsor of new syringe access legislation. “To be successful, we need to fully implement the plan put forth by the Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force. This includes completely decriminalizing syringe possession so that those who are the most vulnerable to HIV infection are not prevented from protecting their health.”

“As the new Chair of the Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Committee, I will continue my work with advocates and my colleagues in government to help eradicate some of the root causes of HIV and AIDS, including barriers to syringe access and treatment for people who use drugs,” said Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal. “The need is great for more education, outreach and supportive services to attain our shared goal of reducing the number of new infections in New York.”

Guillermo Chacon, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS, described the enduring impact of racial and social inequality on HIV rates among people of color: “HIV incidence among Latinos is not the result of high risk behavior alone, but of structural inequalities that make Latinos more likely to come into contact with the disease and less likely to access prevention, treatment, and care. These inequities demonstrate that isolation, poverty, disregard, stigma, disconnect from services, and disempowerment have a much larger impact than behavior alone. Finding means to provide stable housing, and eliminating barriers to treatment, prevention, and care are essential to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2020 in New York State.”

Summing up the mood of the event, Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick said that “elimination of HIV/AIDS is an important goal and I appreciate that the Governor has raised his level of commitment in this regard. In too many places, young people believe that it is a manageable illness. Unfortunately, it is still a dreadful disease which can manifest in many ways and undermines a person’s entire life. The stigma is not gone and too often young people are in denial. Therefore it is crucial to keep the focus on eliminating this disease.”

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