Originally Published in the Houston Chronicle on November 29, 2016
This nation has made so much headway in the battle against HIV/AIDS since June 1981. when a published report described five cases of a rare lung infection in young previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles. Unlike the mid-1980s, when thousands of people died of AIDS-related illnesses, including actor Rock Hudson, today people are living longer and healthier lives.
Forward progress is necessary to keep from sliding backward.
This week Legacy Community Health, a Montrose-based federally qualified health clinic, released a citywide roadmap – the first in Texas – to lay out a pathway to stop the epidemic in our area. Our community should work together to support all feasible recommendations offered in this report. HIV/AIDS need not be a destiny.
The report, written by several working groups, adopts the goal of reducing the number of new HIV cases from roughly 1,200 per year in Harris County to 600 over five years. To achieve this target, more people living with HIV must become aware of their status. One in eight Americans who are living with HIV/AIDS does not know that they have been infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This disease doesn’t discriminate; it harms all types of communities. But in Houston, it hits the African-American population the hardest. The city of Houston and Harris County need to do more to reach at-risk populations and encourage testing. Unlike many other major U.S. metropolitan areas, the city of Houston does not allocate local funding for HIV/AIDS prevention or treatment, Legacy’s report says.
The city and county must make a greater financial investment in their health departments’ efforts if our community is going to slow the transmission of the disease in this area. More testing sites for HIV/AIDS in community centers staffed with culturally sensitive personnel would be a good place to begin.
Criminal justice reform is also necessary to slow the transmission rate. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among individuals in jails or prisons is four times that of the general population. HIV/AIDS medical care and education in the correctional health system should be improved, and all persons should receive a mandatory rapid-HIV test upon release from incarceration.
What would have been a fantasy in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic, when so many talented individuals were losing their battle against this dread disease can now become reality. We have the medical and scientific knowledge to eradicate HIV/AIDS around the globe.
The only question is whether we have the political will. World AIDS Day 2016, marked on Thursday, should remind us that complacency is not an option.