By: Follow South Jersey Staff
SOUTH JERSEY — The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) has released a plan proposed by the New Jersey Taskforce to End the HIV Epidemic that represents the state’s commitment to end the HIV epidemic by 2025.
In the six South Jersey counties, 4,803 individuals are living with HIV/AIDS according to a June 2020 report by NJDOC. Further, more than 86,000 New Jersey residents have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began, the department states. Persons from minority communities have accounted for 77% of those cases. Within the state, there were 38,151 persons living with HIV/AIDS — 50% with HIV and 50% with AIDS as of December 2020.
The plan, entitled, “A Strategic Plan to End the HIV Epidemic in New Jersey by 2025,” was released in advance of World AIDS Day which is observed on December 1 and sets the following goals:
- Reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75%
- Promote access to testing so 100% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS know their status
- Promote access/linkage to care so 90% of those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are virally suppressed
The New Jersey Taskforce to End the HIV Epidemic is comprised of clinical and community‐based service providers, advocates, educators, researchers, members of HIV/AIDS planning groups, persons living with HIV/AIDS (PWH), and state health department staﬀ.
“For decades, the HIV epidemic has impacted our state and has had devasting effects, especially on our communities of color,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a press release from NJDOH. “I commend the passionate advocates who have worked tirelessly to develop this comprehensive strategy and applaud the Department of Health for their ongoing efforts to support people living with HIV/AIDS. I look forward to working with advocates, health care providers, and my colleagues in the Legislature to continue this progress to end the HIV/AIDs epidemic in New Jersey.”
The current budget for the Department of Health Division of HIV, STD and TB Services includes an increase of $3 million in HIV funding for new and expanded HIV prevention and care services. The funding will increase access to HIV prevention medications and rapid antiretroviral treatment.
According to the department, New Jersey has made significant progress in reducing new HIV infections, setting the stage for ending the HIV epidemic. Between 2010 and 2019, the number of new adult/adolescent HIV/AIDS diagnoses declined from 1,345 cases in 2010, to 1,115 in 2019 – a 17% decrease. The number of annual perinatal infections declined by 85% between 2005 and 2020. In 2005, there were 13 pediatric cases, in 2020 there were two cases and in 2019 there were no reported pediatric cases.
“Our goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75% and improve the quality of life of those living with HIV/AIDS. This work will save lives,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli stated. “We are grateful to the members of the Taskforce for their advocacy and dedication as we continue the work to identify the top priority objectives and the implementation steps necessary.”
Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien, taskforce co-chair and Executive Director of Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, said the plan is a step forward towards ending the epidemic.
“Today, New Jersey takes an exciting step forward in ending the HIV epidemic in NJ. For those living with HIV, or at risk of transmission, a formal plan to end the epidemic that removes systemic barriers to care, fights stigma and addresses the social determinants of health is long overdue,” Ahearn-O’Brien said.
The task force used social media, surveys and listening sessions in preparing the plan. Among the feedback received, 34% said stigma prevented them or their clients from getting tested for HIV; while 32% cited fear. When asked what prevented them or their clients from accessing pre‐exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention (PrEP), a daily medication that is highly eﬀective at preventing HIV, 37% cited lack of knowledge, while 16% cited lack of insurance.
“An HIV elimination plan, based on science and data and developed within a community-based process, is key to achieving the goals of reducing new HIV infections towards zero and improving the lives of those already living with HIV,” Henry F. Raymond, DrPH, MPH, taskforce co-chair and Associate Professor, Department of Biostatistics – Epidemiology, Rutgers School of Public Health, said. “We greatly appreciate the administration’s support of this plan and are encouraged that together we will achieve our goals.”
For more information on the Department of Health Division of HIV, STD and TB Services, visit https://nj.gov/health/hivstdtb/.
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