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Another Voice: We can achieve an AIDS-free New York by 2020

By Dr. Gale Burstein

A New Year’s resolution: Let’s end the AIDS epidemic in New York State.

The year 2016 could be pivotal in New York’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Nearly 35 years after the New York Times reported the first cases of what would later be recognized as AIDS, the state is poised to become the first jurisdiction in the world to end its HIV epidemic by preventing new infections and AIDS deaths. Thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership, New York has developed a viable plan that, if implemented, will end our AIDS epidemic by 2020. As a state resident, I have never been prouder.

Cuomo launched New York’s Ending the Epidemic initiative in 2014 by announcing a three-point plan to expand HIV testing, treatment and prevention to decrease new HIV infections from 3,000 a year in 2013 to fewer than 750 by 2020.

We have the tools. Rapid HIV tests can provide preliminary test results within 20 minutes. Antiretroviral medications can keep HIV-positive people healthy and stop ongoing viral transmission. When taken as prevention, they can protect those at highest risk of HIV infection. We now must work to remove barriers to treatment and prevention so all New Yorkers can benefit equally from these advances.

In April 2015, Cuomo endorsed the Ending the Epidemic Blueprint, created by a task force of New York State experts, including those from Erie County, with recommendations to achieve the governor’s goals by 2020. The governor is pledging to include $200 million in his executive budget to fully implement the blueprint’s recommendations.

This budget commitment would truly support our efforts to end HIV/AIDS in Erie County, allowing for treatment and prevention strategies targeted to reach and retain those most in need. Better access to new prevention tools – including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that protects against HIV transmission – is highly effective for those at greatest risk, including young people.

The Erie County Department of Health offers PrEP and rapid HIV testing at our 608 William St. clinic in Buffalo. State resources help to ensure that PrEP and HIV testing are affordable for all in need.

It is crucial to ensure that Cuomo’s $200 million allocation is fully supported by the State Senate and Assembly. This wise public health investment will improve HIV health outcomes and prevent thousands of new infections, saving both lives and billions in avoided health care costs.

With the governor’s budget commitment, Erie County will have the tools, a blueprint and the resources needed to end our AIDS epidemic. The rest is up to us.

There is much work to be done in 2016. But together, we can achieve an AIDS-free New York by 2020.

Dr. Gale Burstein is Erie County commissioner of health.