HIV cases in SF reach record low in 2019

Disparities in diagnoses and treatment continue, with infection rates highest among Black, Latinx men

San Francisco has reached a record low in HIV cases and increased medical care for new diagnoses across affected populations, putting the city closer to reaching its goal of ending new HIV infections, health officials said Thursday.

New cases have dropped to 166 in 2019, representing a 19 percent decrease since 2018 and a 65 percent decrease since 2012, according to the newly released 2019 Annual HIV Epidemiology Report from the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The annual report is part of Getting to Zero San Francisco, an ongoing city initiative aiming for zero new HIV infections, deaths and stigma by 2025. Having fewer than 200 diagnoses is an encouraging development continued from 2018 and an improvement from 227 cases in 2017, as previously reported by The Examiner.

“We are seeing encouraging trends on many fronts towards achieving San Francisco’s goal of zero new HIV infections, but we can’t let up on our efforts to address disparities and ensure people get the care and treatment they need,” said Mayor London Breed.

The report showed that 95 percent of newly diagnosed patients were given care within a month and 78 percent of newly diagnosed patients received viral suppression treatment within six months after diagnosis. The percentage increased to 81 percent within 12 months of diagnosis.

However, the rate of suppression among intravenous drug users was lower at 66 percent and 39 percent for those without a formal living situation, compared to 75 percent for people living with HIV overall.

Furthermore, although the total number of infected Black and Latinx people has decreased, their rates of infection are still higher compared to infected Asian, Pacific Islander and white people.

Black and Latinx men had the highest rates of infection, at 79 per 100,000 and 61 per 100,000, the report found. In addition, new data from the report showed that HIV infections were higher among residents living in census tracts below the federal poverty level and who have less than a high school education.

“While the 2019 numbers make our progress in eliminating new HIV diagnoses look promising, the ongoing disparities and gaps revealed by the data tells us much more work still needs to be done,” said Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax. “We will do so by focusing on equity and by working together with our community partners, scientists, academics, providers and the city’s leaders.”

Colfax expressed being committed to ensure “all San Francisco communities have access to HIV prevention and care that works for them and be the first city to get to zero.”

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic poses considerable challenges in maintaining gains in HIV prevention.

“The fact that San Francisco continues to experience consistent declines in HIV diagnoses and improvements in HIV care while the United States’ outcomes remain flat is something our city should be immensely proud of achieving,” San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Joe Hollendoner said. “Our hard-won progress is at-risk, however, on account of COVID-19. If we don’t want our city to experience a reverse in trend, we must double down on efforts to end HIV transmission, ensure that HIV status does not determine quality of life, and eliminate racial disparities.”

The SFDPH is working on how best to coordinate HIV testing with services and retain safety for services and providers.

“It is more important now than ever to let people know they should still be seeking HIV prevention and care services,” Director of Bridge HIV Dr. Susan Buchbinder said. “These are essential services. Clinics and community-based organizations have built-in safeguards to protect the health and well-being of clients and workers.”

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