AUSTIN (KXAN) — An international agreement Mayor Steve Adler and Judge Sarah Eckhardt signed Wednesday is giving renewed hope to people living with HIV and AIDS.
Austin is now the second Texas city, after San Antonio, to get on board the Fast Track Cities initiative, which is committing to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
“Zero new AIDS cases. Zero new HIV infections. Zero HIV related deaths by 2030,” explained Dr. Phil Huang, medical director and health authority at the Austin Public Health Department.
According to the city, in 2016 there were 4,716 Austin/Travis County residents living with HIV infection. An additional 987 persons are estimated to be infected, but don’t know they have the virus.
Dr. Huang added, “We still have about 250 new cases each year in Travis County.” Black and Latino men who have sex with men account for 47 percent of the new cases here.
Mayor Adler said, “We can no longer stand by and watch this virus continue to spread when solutions exist. And because the solutions exist, we no longer have any excuse for inaction.”
The agreement Adler and Judge Eckhardt signed is called the Paris Declaration.
The immediate goals of the commitment include:
- 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status
- 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained treatment
- 90 percent of all people receiving treatment will have an undetectable viral load
- Reduce to zero the negative impact of stigma and discrimination
When asked how they’ll achieve those goals, Huang said, “We’re looking at the data. We’re monitoring it. We’ll be accountable for performance in achieving these goals.”
“Most people believe that the AIDS crisis is over,” Todd Logan, director of Client Services at Project Transitions, said. “And really what’s happening, particularly in Central Texas here, is the number of people living with HIV continues to climb.”
He explained, as the number of people being infected remains the same every year, that still increases the number of people who need medical care and services.
Logan said being able to make a dent in the number of new cases will be crucial.
Paul Scott, CEO of AIDS Service of Austin, added, “It’s really critically important to reduce stigma in our community.”
Scott said the medical advancement is there, so “there’s no reason why someone should contract HIV as long as we have PrEP, as long as people that are HIV positive are on medications and undetectable.”
For younger people, Kathryn Gonzales with Out Youth said, comprehensive and inclusive sexual education in schools is important.
She said even teenagers need to learn there isn’t any shame associated with being tested for sexually transmitted disease.
“So there’s so much hope there, in terms of thriving with HIV not just surviving,” Scott said.