San Diego County declares war on HIV

New case reported every 18 hours?

San Diego on Tuesday (March 1) moved closer to the rollout of a program with the ambitious goal of completely eliminating new cases of HIV within the county.

In 2014, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors formed a committee to assess the status of the disease locally. The results indicated that, on average, a new case is reported in the region every 18 hours, and that as many as 9000 residents may currently be infected and unaware of their condition.

"HIV lies in wait, and a resurgence is an all too real possibility, especially among our most vulnerable and underserved populations," warns Terry Cunningham, chief of the STD, HIV and Hepatitis Branch of Public Health Services for the county.

Still, supervisor Dave Roberts referred to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that call the fight against HIV infection a "winnable battle" in forwarding a motion that the county move forward with implementation of the committee's suggestions.

The new plan, to be marketed as the Getting to Zero Initiative (also the name of a plan launched in mid-2015 to end euthanasia in local animal shelters), includes both an educational component and a push for more access to care, particularly when it comes to testing services.

“Twenty thousand people in this county have HIV — about 9,000 of them don't know it, or aren't receiving care," said city councilmember Todd Gloria, who attended the board meeting to voice his support for the proposal. "That makes the spread of the disease much more likely. If we can pull those people into care, if we can make sure they know their status, if we can make sure those who are at risk but aren't infected don't get [HIV], think about what we can do, about the savings in health care dollars."

Some components of the plan, which has not been finalized, drew criticism. Supervisor Dianne Jacob expressed concern with a goal that "all San Diego residents be tested for HIV and know their status."

"A parent may not want to have their adolescent tested for HIV during a routine exam," Jacobs said. "I think increasing the access to testing is great, but the focus should be on high-risk individuals."

Following discussion, the measure to continue with implementation of the committee's recommendations and finalize the Getting to Zero plan passed unanimously on a 5-0 vote.

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