San Antonio commemorates World AIDS Day

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    The San Antonio Aids Foundation commemorated World Aids Day Dec.1 and released 21 “homing’ White Rock doves as part of the “21 Dove Salute.” (photo, Christina Acosta)

    December 1 is World AIDS Day and the San Antonio Aids Foundation (SAAF), City’s oldest HIV/AIDS service organization, presented a ceremony with the release of 200 balloons and a “21 Dove Salute.”

    The ceremony also included a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS or related illnesses, 36 of those cases were in San Antonio. Also, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has signed a declaration that allowed San Antonio to recently join Fast Track Cities, an international city-led initiative that is on a mission to end AIDS worldwide by 2030.

    “It is a day of sadness for those who have lost their lives. However, it is also a day to reflect where we have been for those who are living with HIV. For example, there are now 29 FDA drugs to treat HIV now,” said SAAF CEO Cynthia Nelson. “We come together of those who have been affected by HIV/AIDS, and we renew our passionate commitment to healing those who are affected by and working towards a future that is HIV free.”

    The signing of the Paris Declaration on Fast Track Cities Ending AIDS makes San Antonio the first city in Texas to commit to ending the new cases of HIV through education and prevention and establishes a collaborative response to treating existing cases quickly, and ending the stigma. San Antonio joins other cities in the U.S. including Denver, New York and San Francisco.

    The U.S. theme for World AIDS Day 2017 is  “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability and Partnerships.” It is a time to honor nearly 40 million people worldwide who have lost their lives to AIDS, to aid those who are living or at risk of HIV/AIDS and celebrating caregivers, friends and family who support those living with the diseases.

    In Bexar County, there are 6,000 people are currently living with HIV, according to the City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. Bexar County had 360 new HIV diagnosis in 2016, the highest number in recent years, and 85 percent of those are men and 15 percent are women.

    Those who live with HIV in the county include 63 percent Hispanic, 19 percent are Caucasian, 16 percent are African American and two percent are a mix of other ethnicities. Fifty-two percent are people 45 years and older, 47 percent are ages 20-44. The remaining one percent are people 19 years and younger.

    “Well there is obviously expertise in our city, but it is a recognition that here in Texas, but also all across the country, medical professionals and community members and patients with the disease are coming together to make sure that no one has to suffer through this and that we can eradicate the disease for anyone in the future,” said Mayor Nirenberg.

    Since 2014, Fast Track Cities Initative is a global partnership between the City of Paris, International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) and United Nations in collaboration with local, national, regional and international partners and stakeholders. Fast Track Cities aims to leverage existing HIV programs and resources to strengthen citywide responses by reaching 90-90-90 targets by the year of 2020.

    This involves 90 percent of people with HIV are diagnosed, 90 percent of people being diagnosed with HIV are being treated and 90 percent of people being treated for HIV have undetectable viral loads.

    In 2016, San Antonio had a large number of new HIV infections in Texas. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) traced rapid and ongoing transmission of one HIV strain, and noted missed chances to diagnose HIV, link people with HIV to care and to treat HIV.

    Since 2012, medical professionals have learned that people with HIV enjoy long, healthy lives if they treat the disease punctually; that HIV is preventable with a safe daily pill that is 92 percent effective; and when treatment brings HIV to low levels that a blood test cannot detect it, then HIV is considered “undetectable” and significantly less transmittable after six months.

    “The four core partners of the Fast Track Cities initiative welcome San Antonio as the fourteenth city in the U.S., and the first in Texas, to the global network of cities that are committed to accelerating their local Aids response to attain the United Nation’s 90-90-90 targets by 2020,” said Dr. Jose Zuniga, CEO/president of IAPAC and UNAIDS Special Advisor on Fast Track Cities.

    Starting in 2018, Fast Track Cities will host a San Antonio data dashboard on its web portal at www.fast-trackcities.org. Metro Health will also update the website annually, so the stakeholders can track the community’s progress. A report to the community and additional HIV data can be found at www.santonio.gov/Health under the Fast Track Cities tab and at www.sanantonio.gov/health/news/HealthDataReports.

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