Courtney Gross | December 1, 2014
Several people with HIV and AIDS were all in the same place on Monday for World AIDS Day.
“I tested positive November 22, 1989,” said James Lister of the Vocal-NY Action Fund.
“Since 1990,” said Donald Powell of Exponents.
“I’m a longtime survivor since 1985 of HIV and AIDS,” said the Rev. Joyce McDonald.
For them, gone are the days of the ’80s and ’90s, when an HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence and elected officials were urged to do more. Now, it appears, many are embracing the efforts of both city and state leaders.
“Not much more, really, to say expect for thank you, I’m really grateful,” Lister said.
On Monday, the city announced that new HIV diagnoses are at record lows, down to about 2,800 people in the five boroughs in 2013. The number drastically dipped in the ’90s, and it’s continued on that trajectory.
It’s a welcome statistic, but it comes with a caveat. The virus still disproportionately affects black and Hispanic populations, as well as men who have sex with men.
“Gay men are still a population that we still need to do a lot of work with in order to prevent new infections,” said Dr. Vera Antonios of Harlem United.
It’s something on the radar of the governor, who this summer trumpeted an ambitious goal to eradicate the epidemic in just six years.
“We have set the year to 2020 as a goal by which AIDS/HIV should no longer be an epidemic,” Cuomo said at the time.
“It can be done. It can be done,” Lister said.
While the number of new HIV cases continues to decline, those actually affected by the illness say this is much more than just getting medication in the right hands.
“Poverty, substance use, mental health issues, and all of these things kind of conspire to keep an individual from really prioritizing their health the way that they often times should,” Powell said.
The Cuomo administration is still determining how exactly it will eradicate the epidemic. A task force charged with coming up with recommendations will release its findings in January.