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New White House AIDS Plan Echoes In Pittsburgh

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Volunteers reveal a NAMES Project AIDS quilt displayed on the National Mall.

Allegheny County health officials say they are already in line with new White House standards to fight HIV and AIDS.

The plan unveiled Thursday updates one issued by the Obama administration five years ago. Developments since then include new diagnostic tests, a daily pill for infection prevention and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which allows for more American’s to receive treatment and testing.

Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force Executive Director Charles Christian said programs in the region have already been pushing for testing among all populations, not just those considered to be at risk, and for efforts to find ways to get more individuals into treatment programs.

The updated document adds some new goals for 2020, like reducing the death rate among HIV-diagnosed people by at least one-third, and increasing the percentage who control their infection though medication.

Treatment can help suppress the amount of detectable virus in an HIV-positive person’s system, which can also reduce the possibility that he or she will spread the disease.

Christian told Essential Pittsburgh host Paul Guggenheimer Friday that the region and the nation need to get beyond the belief that AIDS is just a risk faced by homosexuals and drug users.

Since AIDS was first identified more than 30 years ago, medicines have changed it from a death sentence to a chronic threat. About 1.2 million Americans were living with HIV in 2012, the most recent year for which that statistic is available.

“This is an epidemic. This is a public health crisis in our lives and it has been around for far too long,” Christian said. “When we start ... moving in that direction, which the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and this national strategy are doing, I think we begin to eliminate that stigma.”

The Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force and the Allegheny County Health Department are calling on all adults to get tested at least once in their life.

“I chair the city of Pittsburgh HIV/AIDS Commission and we are starting to work with City Council members on promoting HIV testing in their districts … to reduce infections to rare by 2020,” Christian said.

Nationally, some of the fastest growth in AIDS has been tracked in homeless populations where diagnoses now stand at more than 8 percent. Among the general population, the infection rate is less than two-thirds of 1 percent.

In Allegheny County, Christian said health advocates want to get more mothers who use intravenous drugs into clinics to get tested.

“We think the reason for that is that those individuals are afraid to come to treatment programs… because they are afraid they might reveal themselves as drug users with children, and then their children might be taken from them,” Christian said.

Read the Obama administration's HIV/AIDS strategy here:

This Essential Pittsburgh segment was broadcast on July 31, 2015. Also on the program, we discussed what low gas prices mean for Pennsylvania and the how a legal battle over the "Happy Birthday" tune involves a University of Pittsburgh songbook.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

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