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AIDS Free Pittsburgh Program Aims To End New Infections By 2020

The City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and area health and services organizations are collaborating on AIDS Free Pittsburgh, a three-pronged public health initiative.

“We’re going to normalize HIV testing," said Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. "We’re going to make improvements in standardizing our linkages to care for those that are diagnosed, and we’re going to improve access to a variety of prevention tools.” 

Those tools include PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily medication which prevents infection among those who do not have HIV.

The PrEP pill contains two medicines that are used separately to reduce infection and change course of the HIV infection, reducing its effects in 85 percent of patients, according to Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer at UPMC.

“We look forward to continuing to suppress it to a greater degree in upcoming years," he said. "This audacious goal of curing AIDS is really a testimony to how strong science leads to better medicine.”

The UPMC AIDS Center is currently working with about 1,700 patients living with HIV and AIDS. The health care system committed to spending $1 million toward AIDS Free Pittsburgh over the next five years.

The buy-in is part of a city- and county-wide effort announced to coordinate with World AIDS Day on Monday. The initiative aims to reduce the local rate of new HIV infections by 75 percent and make Pittsburgh AIDS-free, meaning no new AIDS cases, by 2020.

Allegheny Health Network is also part of the initiative; its Positive Care Clinic is currently serving about 900 patients, up from about 70 in 2000, according to Chief Quality Officer Sam Reynolds.

“Patients are living longer and healthier lives with HIV, but we’re also seeing new patients," Reynolds said. "It’s imperative that we work together to halt the transmission of HIV.”

Though treatment is more effective, HIV and AIDS are still issues in the region.

Harold Weisenfeld, director of the county’s Sexually Transmitted Diseases Program, said between 125 and 135 new cases of HIV have been reported annually for the over the last six years. Most Allegheny County cases still occur in men who have sex with men, but "we’re seeing infections across the board in a diverse population,” he said.

AIDS Free Pittsburgh joins similar efforts underway in San Francisco, where HIV infection rates have been reduced by 30 percent since 2012, as well as New York state and Washington state. Local collaborators include the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, Community Human Services, Macedonia F.A.C.E., Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, University of Pittsburgh, City of Pittsburgh HIV Commission and the HIV/AIDS Regional Collaborative.