David Riley, Staff writer 6:48 p.m. EST December 1, 2014
The end of the AIDS epidemic is within sight in New York, according to a Rochester-area doctor who has been a pioneer in the fight against HIV.
Dr. William Valenti of Trillium Health is a member of a state task force working to reduce the number of new HIV infections to 750 per year by 2020. He spoke about that effort and the state of HIV and AIDS in Monroe County (/story/news/local/2014/01/25/the-fight-to-end-aids-far-from-over/4895373/) on Monday, which was World AIDS Day.
"It's a very ambitious plan, but you can almost see that we're in striking distance," Valenti said of the state initiative.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in an op-ed piece Monday (/story/news/politics/blogs/vote-up/2014/12/01/cuomohiv-cases-in-ny-down-40-over-last-decade/19746319/) that New York has reduced new HIV cases 40 percent over the past decade. He also renewed his call to reduce new infections below epidemic levels by the end of the decade.
Locally, there were 64 new diagnoses of HIV in Monroe County in 2012, the most recent year for which state Department of Health data was available. That was down 60 percent from the number of diagnoses in 2007.
But there still are more people living with HIV and AIDS in this region than many other parts of western and upstate New York.
As of 2012, about 198 out of every 100,000 people was living with HIV or AIDS in Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties — a higher rate than the regions surrounding Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse, state health statistics show (https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/general/statistics/annual/2012/2012_annual_surveillance_report.pdf).
HIV patients can fare well if they are treated, but the medical system still needs to do a better job of reaching people infected with the virus, Valenti said.
"I think we're still falling short in terms of getting enough people tested, getting them into care and keeping them in care," he said. "There's a lot of denial and stigma that are still the big things that stop people from getting tested."
Trillium is involved in a state pilot program in which Valenti sees great promise. The initiative targets a high-risk group — men who have sex with other men — with "pre-exposure" drugs that can lower their risk of infection.
In the process, the participants get involved in a regimented medical program that makes them more aware of their risk and encourages safe sex.
Trillium has about 75 people enrolled in the program, which has been under way for about a year, Valenti said. "It's going surprisingly well," he said.
Valenti planned to speak at two events Monday night that would include a moment to remember those who died in the AIDS epidemic. Valenti said he would urge people to also see the occasion as an opportunity to finish the job of fighting HIV.
"I am optimistic that if we don't achieve the exact goal of getting to zero, that we'll get pretty close," he said.
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