Updated: December 01, 2020 10:47 AM
Created: December 01, 2020 10:42 AM
Tuesday, Minnesota health officials highlighted the innovation and resiliency shown by both providers and patients in efforts to end HIV on World AIDS Day, which is celebrated on Dec. 1 each year.
"Our partners on the front lines are doing innovative work during this pandemic," Christine Jones, manager of STD/HIV/TB programs at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), said. "COVID-19 has reduced clinic hours and made HIV testing even more challenging due to social distancing requirements. From enhanced outreach efforts to linking people rapidly to care, service providers across the state are adapting to answer the call to end HIV in Minnesota."
MDH said creative approaches have become the new norm for linking HIV-positive people to care. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study also showed small incentives help keep patients in HIV care long-term, so MDH has started supporting clinics to incentivize first and second care HIV visits so people continue to receive care.
Several front line organizations have also connected care providers directly to outreach workers so a health care worker is available at a moment's notice when a person tests positive for HIV.
"Connecting people to care quickly is important for getting them the support and treatment they need to live long and healthy lives," Jones said. "When taken as prescribed, HIV medications can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, making it impossible to pass HIV to sex partners. This is often called Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U), or U=U. It’s a significant step forward in our efforts to stop the spread of HIV."
According to MDH, advancements like U=U and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the daily pill that prevents HIV – are very effective and are cornerstones of END HIV MN, the state's long-term plan to end HIV infections and improve health outcomes for those living with HIV.
"We have the tools and the know how to bring an end to the HIV epidemic," Mariah Wilberg, statewide HIV strategy and services coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said. "After 39 years, we have it in our power to prevent one more infection, and we can make sure people who are living with HIV stay healthy. The END HIV MN plan lays out how we do that."
MDH said new HIV diagnoses in the state have stayed relatively stable, with 275 cases reported in 2019. However, significant disparities remain.
More than one-third of new HIV diagnoses were among people under 30; more than half of all new HIV cases last year were among communities of color; men who have sex with men continue to have higher rates of HIV; and HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs also continue to rise.
MDH recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once or yearly if you don't know the HIV status of sex partners or those you share injection equipment with. You can find a testing location here. You can also access the Syringe Service Program if injecting substances.
Several virtual events are scheduled to celebrate World AIDS Day Tuesday, including:
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