Today, activists will gather at 1 p.m. in front of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Long Island City, Queens, to protest cuts in funding to HIV/AIDS resources in New York City. ACT UP is targeting its outrage at the Health Department over what it says are inadequate data collection and presentation systems, budget cuts to needed preventive care, and poor publicity for programs available to at-risk and HIV-positive populations.
Over the last 30 years, HIV infection rates have fallen precipitously through a combination of better education about transmission and encouragement of safer sex in all demographics. And yet, among young gay men, especially young gay men of color, the number of new infections nationally rose over 20 percent between 2008 and 2010. ACT UP is calling the explosion in new cases a “new HIV crisis.”
We can’t say exactly how many infections are occurring in New York City, because the last available data prepared by the Health Department is from 2008, a symptom of the problem ACT UP is trying to address. That report puts the number at around a 5 percent increase annually in new HIV cases in the city.
“The good intentions of Mayor Bloomberg and his incompetent Health Department have given us a new HIV emergency that relies on 30-year-old tactics and bad science to hide this disaster,” inveighed Jeton Ademaj of ACT UP to Edge Boston.
Especially worrying is the lack of education on post- and pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP and PrEP. Last month ACT UP picketed in front of Mt. Sinai Medical Center because a man seeking PEP after being exposed to HIV and was told by hospital staff that no such treatment exists. It was only after he contacted advocates at ACT UP that he was given his starter dose.
According to ACT UP’s website, adequate access and education to PEP is crucial to stemming new infections, figuring the “morning-after” medication as central to the fight against HIV/AIDS in New York City.