California's ambitious campaign to reduce HIV infections, AIDS deaths

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State and local health officials have launched an ambitious campaign designed to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in California over the next five years.

There are about 5,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed in California each year, and the goal is to bring that number down to fewer than 2,500 by 2021, according to the California Department of Public Health, the initiative's lead agency.

The effort seeks to lower the death rate among Californians with HIV from 1,000 per 100,000 to less than 650 per 100,000.

The campaign, dubbed "Laying a Foundation for Getting to Zero," outlines a series of strategies, including: boosting the number of people at risk of HIV infection who use Truvada, a daily medication that can prevent HIV infection; increasing and improving HIV testing; quickly linking newly diagnosed people with medical care; and increasing the percentage of people with HIV infection who are virally suppressed.

The goals and strategies were developed with input from community stakeholders, local health jurisdictions and HIV planning bodies throughout the state, Public Health said.

Dr. Karen Mark, chief of the Public Health's Office of AIDS, says this is an "opportune time" for such an effort.

Besides the preventive drug Truvada and medications that suppress HIV-positive peoples' viral loads, the Affordable Care Act has made health insurance and medical care more broadly available, she says.

As of 2014, there were approximately 126,000 people living with HIV in California, according to the state Office of AIDS. Close to three-quarters of those infections were among men who have sex with men.

Nearly 41 percent of people newly diagnosed with HIV live in Los Angeles County, as do nearly 40 percent of people living with HIV, according to state data.

Disparities exist among those who are infected: While 42 percent of state residents diagnosed with HIV are white, the rate of disease is highest among African-Americans. The rate among blacks is almost three times higher than among whites.

African-Americans also face disparities at each stage of HIV medical care, from initial diagnosis, to accessing and retaining care, to achieving viral suppression, the state says.