San Francisco – Since the 1980’s, San Francisco has been setting the model in the U.S. on how to fight against HIV. With the “Getting to Zero” initiative, the city expects to reduce both HIV infections and HIV deaths by 90 percent from the current levels, expecting to finish in 2020.

Mayor Ed Lee from San Francisco announced last Thursday that the city will dedicate $1.7 million to support the city’s Getting to Zero Program, trying to target the people who are the most difficult to reach and help.

The city once was the epidemic’s ground zero and it now only reports only a few hundred cases every year, thanks to the modern and creative programs created to fight the disease. Ward 86, at the clinic at San Francisco General Hospital that opened in 1983, was the first dedicated HIV center of the U.S.

Getting To Zero HIV & AIDS Infections. Connecting the Dots. Credits: RYOT/Youtube Channel

“I love the San Francisco model,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “If it keeps doing what it is doing, I have a strong feeling that they will be successful at ending the epidemic as we know it. Not every last case — we’ll never get there — but the overall epidemic. And then there’s no excuse for everyone not doing it,” he added, according to the NY Times.

Exactly a month ago, September 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidelines for the prevention and treatment of HIV, calling the rest of the world to follow the successful model provided by San Francisco.

The recommendations, adopted by the city in 2013, were that every HIV patient should take antiretroviral drugs as soon as they tested positive, and that everyone with a risk of getting infected should be provided with preventive drugs. 

The RAPID program, launched precisely in 2013 by the San Francisco General, the University of California and the city’s health department, made possible to treat people as soon as they got diagnosed. Also, the program created a web of services that help people, guiding them with the latest news and introducing them to the medical team.

Getting to Zero Program

Their goals are ” zero new HIV infections, zero HIV deaths, and zero HIV stigma by 2020,” according to their website. The program gives credit to the thousands of people in San Francisco that contribute in different ways to the initiative: from doctors to organizations, recognizing them as the citizens that raise awareness on sexuality and prevention, and that are willing to go under an HIV test and accept the treatment if they need it.

“The City has a robust HIV surveillance system, widespread HIV testing services, syringe access programs, comprehensive HIV care in the public and private sector, and strong linkages between internationally renowned community organizations and scientists,” their website reads.

Getting to Zero states that for reaching the goals, citizens from all ages —and the youth in particular— have to gain consciousness on the disease, learn how to protect themselves, and have the consideration to help their friends and relatives that suffer the condition. Also, they want keep raising the efforts on having an easy-access medical and health services. Erasing the stigma on HIV is very important as well to eradicate it across the country, and it needs the support from all sectors of the society.

Numbers talk

In 2014, only 302 new HIV diagnoses were recorded in San Francisco, the lowest on history — on the other hand, 2,332 cases were registered in 1992, the epidemic’s peak.

Dr. Susan Buchbinder, head of HIV prevention research for the city health department, said that only 177 people in San Francisco having HIV died, most of them by cancer, heart diseases, or old-age related conditions, according to the New York Times.

When it comes to prevention, San Francisco remains at the top. Nearly the 82 percent of HIV residents were on treatment, as 72 percent were “virally suppressed” —this mean they are not infectious.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in San Francisco, but it’s not over”, said Dr. Diane Havlir, chief of the UCSF Division of HIV/AIDS at San Francisco General Hospital, according to the SF Gate.

In total, with all programs and initiatives, San Francisco is set to spend, only in this year, $54 million on prevention, treatment and research to bring the HIV statistics to zero.

Source: The New York Times