Anemona Hartocollis | April 29, 2015
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday what he called a blueprint to virtually eliminate AIDS in New York, a package of new laws and more aggressive use of antiretroviral drugs that brought cheers from some activists, if no guarantee it will come to fruition.
The overarching goal of the plan, which was put together by a task force of AIDS prevention activists convened by the governor, is to reduce new H.I.V. infections to about 750 a year, from 3,000, by 2020. Some of its recommendations call for greater use of proven strategies like increasing the testing of people at risk, the availability of drugs to prevent transmission and the treatment of people who have H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
Another step the task force and Mr. Cuomo embraced was to provide a treatment known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to people at risk of contracting H.I.V. The drug Truvada has shown promise in preventing infection in H.I.V.-negative people who engage in risky behavior, though a few critics have expressed worry that it may promote a cavalier attitude toward sex.
“Today we see a real ray of light in what has been a 35-year nightmare,” Mr. Cuomo said in announcing the plan, called the Blueprint to End AIDS, outside the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in the West Village. “Over those 35 years, 153,000 New Yorkers’ lives were lost. 153,000. Many of our finest, many of our most accomplished, many of our most creative, youngest New Yorkers were lost.”
He made reference to the first governor to tackle H.I.V. and AIDS, his father, whose time in the governor’s office coincided with the explosion in cases. By the early 1990s, nearly 15,000 people in the state learned they had H.I.V. every year. In 2013, there were about 3,300.
The report says reducing the rate of new AIDS cases hinged in large part on successfully treating people who are living with H.I.V. and who could transmit the virus. The state estimates that 154,000 people are infected, but 22,000 of them do not know it, and of those who do, almost half are not getting the treatment needed to suppress the virus.
Mr. Cuomo’s aides said that many of the recommendations could be carried out through regulatory or administrative policy and would not need legislation. They said the new state budget had already moved the plan forward by striking a requirement for prisoners to give written consent for H.I.V. testing; barring prosecutors from using condoms as evidence in prostitution cases, which could encourage prostitutes to carry condoms; and making it legal to possess syringes obtained through needle-exchange programs for intravenous drug users.
But other recommendations face obstacles. One, a bill to prevent discrimination against transgender people, which could help them find stable employment and housing, has been languishing in the State Senate for several years.
Other recommended programs, like housing assistance for H.I.V.-positive residents, would require state funds. The 2015-16 budget includes $10 million to support the governor’s AIDS plan. The governor’s office said it could not give an exact breakdown Wednesday of how the money would be spent. But state officials argued that many of the proposals would pay for themselves in the long run, because if the incidence of H.I.V. were reduced, the cost of treating it would go down as well.
Charles King, a co-chairman of the task force and the president and chief executive of Housing Works, an aid organization for H.I.V.-positive New Yorkers, acknowledged that articulating a vision did not mean it would happen. “I’m not so Pollyannaish that I don’t appreciate that some of our recommendations are going to be a big lift,” Mr. King said.
Others saw the document as tantamount to a promise. “This is what leadership looks like,” said Jennifer Flynn, executive director of Vocal-NY, a Brooklyn-based community organizing group.
Some people listening to the governor’s speech were more skeptical.
“I think it’s more of an agenda, an outline, not a plan,” said Tamesh Sankar, 23, of Jamaica, Queens. “Not how and where and the cost. How much city and state funding will go to this?”