By Sabrina Wilson | February 7, 2019 at 6:46 PM CST – Updated February 7 at 6:46 PM
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – HIV remains a stubborn problem in Louisiana, and a local organization that helps people who are living with the disease said it welcomes President Trump’s goal of wiping out the illness.
“We in New Orleans remain the third-highest rate of new HIV infections as a city of anywhere else in the country. So, we remain on the front lines of the HIV epidemic,” said Dr. Jason Halperin, an infectious disease physician with CrescentCare, an organization which was formerly the NO/AIDS Task Force.
President Trump said during his State of the Union address this week that his administration is working to end HIV and AIDS in America.
“Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond,” said Trump.
“I applaud the president for setting the goal of ending the epidemic by 2030. It is possible, and we have the tools to do so,” said Dr. Halperin.
Following the president’s remarks, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released information on an action plan.
HHS says the president’s initiative will work to reduce new infections by 75-percent in the next five years and by 90-percent in the next 10 years.
According to the federal government, the plan will fund three major areas of action:
1) Increased investments in geographic hotspots through existing and new programs
2) The use of data to identify where HIV is spreading the fastest to address prevention, care and treatment needs at the local level
3) Funds for the creation of a local HIV Health Force in targeted areas to expand prevention and treatment services
Dr. Halperin believes the goal of wiping out HIV is achievable.
“We need to test as many people as possible. Those who are positive, we need to start them on treatment immediately and anyone who is at risk of HIV there is a pill, one pill once a day called PREP that prevents HIV. It is those three pillars and we could end the epidemic,” he said.
Halperin said rapid treatment of people diagnosed with the virus is happening in the city.
“In New Orleans, anyone diagnosed in the city, we see them at CrescentCare, and the same day they’re diagnosed we start them on medication because the medication is that safe, and once they’re started they will live as long a life as if they did not have HIV, and when on medication you cannot transmit the virus. It is an incredible scientific feat,” said Dr. Halperin.
He also favors HIV testing as part of annual medical exams.
“One hundred percent,” Halperin stated.
And while experts say it is hard to deny that major progress has been made in the fight against HIV and AIDS, many want more education at the community level.
“We need better education, sexual education starting in early, in high schools is incredibly important because what we see is the highest risk are people between the ages of 18 and 25, and especially people of color,” said Dr. Halperin.
He and others said ending the stigma attached to the virus should also be a priority.
“This illness continues to be stigmatized and we need to de-stigmatize HIV and President Trump has not done that,” said Halperin.