LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County health officials announced an effort Dec. 1 aimed at significantly reducing the number of annual HIV infections in the county and helping bring an end to the virus that causes AIDS.
Nearly 61,000 people are living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and about 1,850 new cases are diagnosed each year — mostly among gay men and residents who are black, Latino or transgender, according to the county Department of Public Health.
“While we have made great progress in reducing new infections, HIV continues to significantly impact our county,” said Mario J. Perez, director of the department’s Division of HIV and STD Programs. “The rates of infection among certain groups are at epidemic proportions. If we can get people into treatment, the virus becomes undetectable — and undetectable equals untransmittable.”
Perez said the number of new cases each year has dropped from 6,500 in the 1990s to the current 1,850 cases annually, “and our goal is to get to 500 (new cases per year) by 2022.”
“We are now at a point where 60 percent of all cases in the county are virally suppressed — which means no detectable levels of HIV in their blood,” he said.
The county announced its goals on World AIDS Day — at a news conference at downtown’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer, explained that the department is working to increase the proportion of people living with HIV who are diagnosed to at least 90 percent by 2022 and to increase the proportion of diagnosed people living with the disease who are virally suppressed to 90 percent in the next five years. Achieving viral suppression among people living with HIV is the single most effective strategy for reducing new infections and ending the epidemic, he said.
Perez said the Public Health agency is calling “for collaboration, communication and accountability from all sectors, including the community, all levels of government, and the private health sector.”
Grissel Granados, community co-chair of the initiative, said the HIV epidemic in Los Angeles can be contained.
“This is the time to center people of color, transgender people and young gay men; be unapologetically sex positive; and catch up to the science of HIV prevention, which includes the fact that when the virus is undetectable in people living with HIV, they cannot transmit HIV and that when HIV-negative people take Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, they reduce their chances of acquiring HIV,” he said.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis — or PrEP — is a daily pill taken by people at high risk for HIV. Taken as prescribed, PrEP can reduce the chance of becoming infected by up to 99 percent. Increasing the number of people who are on PrEP is one of the most effective ways to significantly reduce new HIV infections, according to Perez.