San Diego health officials and activists are marking World AIDS Day on Thursday, nine months after the county approved a plan to end the local HIV epidemic within 10 years.
UC San Diego will be holding events throughout the day for World AIDS Day, including a panel on living with HIV. The San Diego LGBT Community Center is hosting the annual A. Brad Truax Award Ceremony, meant to honor activists, volunteers and health care providers who work to combat HIV/AIDS. Officials are later gathering in Hillcrest for a tree lighting ceremony to commemorate victims of the disease.
HIV-positive individuals who are in treatment can become effectively non-infectious, and the drug Truvada, when taken every day, can make a person near immune to contracting the virus. Patrick Loose, chief of the HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch of the County Public Health Services, said society already has the medical tools to end the HIV epidemic.
"Those tools won't be enough — we need community organizing, we need activism, we need policy changes," Loose said. "But really, we should expect to see an end to this HIV epidemic over the next 10 years."
Loose added that ending the epidemic did not mean there would not be any new infections, but that the number of people living with HIV would stop growing. He said currently there is a new HIV diagnosis in San Diego County every 18 hours.
The US Centers for Disease Control says African-American and Latino men who have sex with men are the groups with the most disproportionate HIV infection rates. The same is true in San Diego. Loose said the lingering stigma of HIV and the sexual behaviors that spread the virus is the biggest barrier to stopping the epidemic.
"Gay and bisexual men in many communities cannot be out to their families, they can't be out in their faith communities, and so that support is not available to them," he said. "So a lot of the work is really engaging community organizations and people within those communities to become advocates ... so that we can begin to de-stigmatize the disease."