Monday, December 1, 2008

Remember World AIDS Day in Manhattan

Today is World AIDS Day. It is an important day for remembrance and reflection as well as for looking ahead and for advocating changes that will combat the spread of HIV and AIDS. Manhattan remains the capital of the AIDS epidemic, and African Americans remain its most victimized community.

AIDS Testing in NYC Must Be Expanded to Include Manhattan

In August 2008, Manhattan Viewpoint advocated HIV testing throughout Manhattan in response to the announcement by New York City that it would fund HIV testing for every adult in the Bronx. The Bronx was chosen for this effort despite the fact that Manhattan has the highest level of HIV infection in New York City. We continue to encourage our fellow Manhattanites to demand that New York City provide Manhattan's adults with the same opportunities to be tested for HIV and AIDS that are being provided to adults in the Bronx.

The Shocking Statistics

Even for those who are familiar with the AIDS epidemic and its devastating impact on New York City, the official statistics remain breathtaking.
  • Approximately 1 in 70 New Yorkers is infected with HIV
  • 1 in 40 African Americans in NYC is infected
  • 1 in 25 men living in Manhattan is infected
  • 1 in 12 black men in NYC age 40-49 years is infected
  • 1 in 5 black men age 40-49 in Manhattan is infected
New York City has the highest AIDS infection rate in the country. NYC has more AIDS cases than Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Washington DC combined.

Unfortunately, AIDS in NYC is becoming more concentrated amongst people of color, as 80% of new AIDS diagnoses and deaths are among African Americans and Hispanics. Black men in New York City are 6 times more likely to die of AIDS than white men. Black women are 9 times more likely to die of AIDS than white women. Hispanic men and women are 4 times more likely to die of AIDS than white men and women.

Take Down the Barriers to Testing

New York State laws prevent a more effective testing regime in NYC. The State laws currently in force regarding HIV were enacted more than 20 years ago. Today, the treatment opportunities for those who contract HIV are dramatically improved versus 20 years ago, but those who contract the disease must be aware of their infection in order to know to seek treatment. Without a more effective testing regime, much of the improvement in treatment is being wasted. Each year in NYC, more than 1,000 people realize that they have contracted HIV when they develop the symptoms associated with AIDS - long after the virus has begun to do damage to their bodies and long after we'd want treatment to start in order to have the best possible results.

Early diagnosis allows patients to receive treatment and care earlier. Earlier care reduces hospitalizations, cuts health care costs, and prolongs life.

Earlier diagnosis allows those infected to take steps to reduce the spread of AIDS, and studies show that those who are infected typically change their behaviors immediately and dramatically to prevent the spread of the disease.

We need changes to state law to require only documented oral consent rather than written consent for HIV testing. With these changes, physicians will be more likely to incorporate HIV testing into their typical consultations with their patients. As a result, more New Yorkers will be tested, and the spread of the HIV virus will be slowed.

We must also ensure that counseling programs and treatment programs are expanded and improved for those infected and for those who are the most at-risk for infection, and it is imperative that all testing remain completely voluntary and confidential.

The nature of the testing must also be the most effective. Rapid tests can yield results almost instantly, as opposed to the traditional blood tests which take days or weeks to reveal whether an infection is present. Many New Yorkers avoid testing because they are uncomfortable with the testing procedure, and many do not return for their results because they grow afraid of the results during the long delay between the time of the test and the delivery of the results. After finding the courage to be tested, they often cannot resurrect that courage a second time to finish the process. Rapid, non-invasive testing will bring out more New Yorkers and virtually eliminate the group who get tested but never receive their results.

Manhattan Needs Albany Now While We Hope For Help From Washington

Our country needs the incoming administration to change the approach we take to fighting AIDS at the national level. In October 2007, the National Conclave on HIV/AIDS Policy for Black Clergy convened in Manhattan with unprecedented attendance from leading church voices from all around the United States. The Conclave developed the basis for the HIV/AIDS Elimination Act, which will be introduced in the US House of Representatives during the next Congress by Upper Manhattan's Congressman, Chairman Charlie Rangel. The Conclave also agreed to promote HIV testing and awareness through black churches. As a continuation of the momentum of the Conclave, last week in her op-ed, C. Virginia Fields, the CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, gave us an optimistic and clear vision of how we can work together at the national level to begin to make progress against HIV. Manhattan Viewpoint shares her national vision and her optimism. The January 20, 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President should also be the beginning of the end of the period in which we were losing the war against HIV in the United States.

Closer to home, we need the State Legislature and the Governor to change the state laws to make testing more likely to reach more of our people and reduce the spread of HIV in our neighborhoods. On this World AIDS Day, let us commit to standing united against HIV and standing united in favor of an improved testing regime for Manhattan and the for the rest of New York City.

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