Central New Yorkers marked World AIDS day today by remembering those who died of the disease, but also celebrating progress of AIDS prevention in New York State. ACR Health Executive Director Wil Murtaugh says the state’s increase in the supplement of Pre-exposure Pills, or PrEP, is helping stop the disease before it can be contracted.
“They’re HIV negative now, but their behavior, their life style. They may be homeless. They may be sex working. It’s very important to get them on PrEP that they can keep HIV away. It’s the biggest game changer in the AIDS business since condoms.
Despite these strides in AIDS prevention, Murtaugh says it’s not always easy to convince people to take PrEP.
“You have to sell it to people, even if they may not even want it. You have to sell it to people that you know are extremely at risk. Here is something we can get you for free that you can take every day so that you don’t get HIV.”
In fact, Governor Cuomo announced today that PrEP will be available to all insured New Yorkers in the state’s continuing effort to end AIDS by 2020. Murtaugh says awareness and education about the drug and AIDS in general is essential to keeping communities virally suppressed and AIDS infections in New York at historic lows.
“I don’t think the schools, or education system, or families are talking about this enough. I mean, this is a disease that no one should be getting, and we don’t have to get this disease if we protect ourselves and arm ourselves.”
Numbers from the Governor’s office show that there were just over 2,800 new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2016, a nine percent decrease from 2015. Despite that progress, Murtaugh says he still has concerns outside of New York.
”The only worry that I have is that I know that New York State is doing its job in reducing this, but the rest of the country is not really doing too much. We’re gonna get our numbers down, but I hope the rest of the nation takes our lead and takes what we’ve done and starts doing the same stuff.”
That includes expanding HIV testing, and linking HIV positive individuals to health care and medication.