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The end of AIDS in NYS

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The next time you see your primary care physician, don't be surprised if you're asked when you were last tested for HIV infection.

HIV testing, particularly for those between the ages of 13 to 64 in New York State, is on its way to being as routine and regular as checking for high blood pressure.

Comprehensive testing is a key component of Governor Andrew Cuomo's ambitious initiative to end AIDS in the state by 2020.

After a year of planning, a 63-member task force presented to Cuomo its blueprint to achieve that goal. Implementation of the plan begins this month with 13 regional information meetings taking place around the state.

In Rochester, Trillium Health, in collaboration with the MOCHA Center and Mayor Lovely Warren, will hold "Ending AIDS by 2020: From Blueprint to Action," from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, August 13, at 259 Monroe Avenue.

"This whole effort is built on 30 years of experience and good public policy," says Dr. William Valenti, senior vice president and co-founder of Trillium Health. "It's not like this came out of the blue. We have a lot of experience with what works and what doesn't."

Valenti, who is a member of the governor's task force, says that Cuomo's goal to reduce new infections from about 3,000 per year to 750 would break the back of the epidemic in New York.

"Not only my gut, but science tells me this is doable," Valenti says. But getting there will involve a carefully choreographed, three-pronged approach, he says.

Making HIV testing routine when patients see their primary care physicians or go to emergency rooms is fundamental, he says.

The blueprint calls for identifying people with HIV who haven't been diagnosed and guiding them into treatment. They are frequently highly infectious, Valenti says, and likely to infect others.

The next step is maintaining a high level of medical, as well as non-medical care for people who are positive, he says.

This means addressing their employment, housing, insurance, and mental health needs, too, he says. A homeless LGBT youth or an unemployed mother of three, for example, will likely face challenges that undermine HIV treatment if they aren't addressed.

The third step is providing affordable access to preventive measures such as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. The drug, which is taken daily, can minimize the risk of infection for people who are sexually active and HIV negative.

As complicated as it is, Valenti says, individualized and coordinated care is the way to beat the epidemic.

"If someone is moving to New York City, for example, we don't want to just fill their last script and say goodbye," he says.

Both New York and Rochester are being scrutinized in this effort, Valenti says.

"People in other states like Minnesota and California are watching us closely to see if we're successful," he says. "We've got this blueprint. Now what we do with it locally is how we solve this."

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