By Venita Ray
According to Texas Department of State Health Service’s recent Texas HIV Surveillance Report, Houston has the highest number of new HIV cases in the state of Texas. The Houston Health Department calculates one in 200 Houstonians are living with the disease. Yet there remains no sense of urgency to tackle this many-decades-old public health crisis. Other major, U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, in addition to New York State, have launched aggressive campaigns, with measurable drops in their HIV numbers. That’s why Houston-based Legacy Community Health, Texas’ largest community health system of 29 clinics, launched END HIV Houston (END) — an aggressive and strategic campaign to end the HIV epidemic in the nation’s fourth-largest city.
It’s the first and only plan for the state of Texas. Since its launch late in 2016, the campaign is being seen as a model for the rest of the country.
Although the U.S. has the medical and scientific know-how to end the epidemic, we must focus on fighting the social factors that perpetuate the disease. The “Roadmap to Ending the HIV Epidemic in Houston” is END’s strategic, five-year plan to stop the spread of HIV. The roadmap outlines five core areas: 1) prevention of HIV; 2) access to health care for those living with HIV/AIDS or vulnerable for acquiring HIV; 3) social factors (known as social determinants of health), such as poverty, stigma, homophobia, racism and health literacy; 4) criminal justice reforms to decrease new cases; and 5) the public policy and funding.
END aims to cut new HIV cases in half from roughly 1,200 per year to 600, over five years. In addition, END strives for 90 percent of people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent of them to stay in care, and 90 percent being virally suppressed.
HIV has become a forgotten epidemic, and we aim to change that. Although HIV disproportionately affects the LGBT, African-American and Hispanic communities, HIV is not just a gay problem, it’s not just a black or brown problem — it’s a human problem. It should be viewed as such. And, together, we’re the solution. Join us to end HIV in Houston.
Venita Ray is the public policy manager at Legacy Community Health and director of the citywide END HIV Houston campaign.