LA County seeks to narrow HIV disparities

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wants to get smarter about racial, ethnic and other disparities in HIV awareness, prevention and treatment so it can do a better job narrowing those gaps. 

On Tuesday the board directed the L.A. County Department of Public Health to report back in 90 days on, among other things, the county's efforts to increase HIV awareness and access to a daily HIV-prevention pill among young black and Latino gay men, American Indians and transgender females.

The board also asked for information about the county's strategies to increase viral suppression among those populations. When people are virally suppressed, they are much less likely to spread the virus to sexual partners.

Supervisor Hilda Solis authored the motion.

Countywide, American Indians and African-Americans are diagnosed with HIV at much higher rates than whites. Transgender women are diagnosed at nearly twice the rate of men. 

"In L.A., we know that we are making very good progress with getting people diagnosed, linked to care, on meds and virally suppressed," says Mario J. Perez, director of the Department of Public Health's Division of HIV and STD programs. "But that progress is uneven."

The number of new HIV infections in the county continues to drop each year, from 6,000 at the peak of the epidemic to an estimated 1,850 this year, he says. But "there are some groups where that drop is either not happening or not dropping as fast as for everyone else."

Al Ballesteros, a member of the County Commission on HIV, says the drivers of the higher infection rates among some groups include stigma, discrimination, poverty and drug use. He says the data the board has requested will show whether the county's current programs and initiatives are addressing these challenges.

"What might be needed is investment in dealing with discrimination in parts of the community," says Ballesteros, adding that this might include working with communities to develop programs like anti-stigma campaigns.

Public Health estimates that nearly 60,000 L.A. County residents are living with HIV.