Ending HIV in Houston/Harris County

Legacy Policy Paper | June 2016

The Challenge

 Scientific breakthroughs have changed HIV from a death sentence in the 1980s and 90s to a chronic manageable illness today.  At issue today is that HIV remains an epidemic in the United States – one that can be prevented.  In Texas, 72,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 14,000 unaware of their status. Houston leads the state in the highest number of HIV infections: nearly 21,500.

Men who have sex with men was the largest risk category for all male cases (85%), with African-American men having the highest number of new diagnoses. African-American women were newly diagnosed at a rate 21 times that of white women and almost six times that of Hispanic women.

Obstacles to ending the epidemic include stigma, machismo, religion, and poor economic and housing situations.  A major misconception in communities of color that HIV is only a “gay disease.”

The Long-Term Solution

 In line with the national strategy to end HIV, Texas must focus on treatment — getting everyone who is HIV positive to maintain their medications and wellness. It also means zeroing in on prevention– promoting condom use, building awareness of the daily pill, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), among other things.

With a grant from the Ford Foundation and AIDS United, Legacy Community Health is leading the strategy around and execution of a citywide “End New Diagnoses” campaign. Through both prevention and treatment, the goal is to cut all new HIV transmissions in Houston in half in five years. The campaign is built on an intersectional approach tailored to Houston’s diverse population and includes novel programs like the Positive Organizing Project.

At a statewide level, Legacy is focused on:

  • Passing legislation permitting syringe exchange programs, proven to prevent injection-related HIV infections, while not increasing drug use.
  • Discontinuing the practice of criminalizing people living with HIV.
  • Fully funding the Texas HIV Medication Program that provides lifesaving drugs to those living with HIV/AIDS.