Mayor Ed Lee speaks about HIV prevention during a news conference at San Francisco City Hall on Monday. (Ryan McNulty/Special to S.F. Examiner)

HIV councils merge with new PrEP campaign

One HIV council plus another HIV council will hopefully equal zero future HIV cases.

The former HIV Prevention Planning Council and the HIV Ryan White Care Council, which tackled HIV prevention and treatment services separately, are merging as part of an effort by Mayor Ed Lee to streamline eliminating the virus from San Francisco.

The new 44-member council will include health department staff, consumers of HIV services, community health care providers and members of other city departments like the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Nearly half of the members are HIV positive.

“We’re getting closer to zero every day and it’s because of the people right here in this room,” Lee said Wednesday at a news conference at City Hall, where he was joined by members of the new council. “San Francisco’s aim is to become the first city to get to zero. That means zero new HIV infections, zero deaths from HIV, zero stigma and discrimination.”

Rates of infection in San Francisco hit record lows the last two years with 255 new cases reported in 2015 and 309 in 2014. Around the peak of the AIDS crisis in 1992, The City’s new cases numbered 2,332 in that year alone.

Lee also announced the Health Department’s new campaign promoting the HIV-prevention drug PrEP (short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) as “our sexual revolution,” which will roll out during Pride in public spaces and online.

Currently, 6,000 San Francisco residents are prescribed daily doses of the drug.

“When you have a tool that so dramatically reduces the risk of infection, it’s something that we need to promote, we need to invest in, and we need to make sure that everyone can access,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is gay and announced in 2014 that he takes PrEP.

Health Department Director Barbara Garcia said HIV is still surrounded by stigma, “the code word for racism, discrimination and homophobia,” which is a major issue the new council will address.

PrEP is believed to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people of high risk by up to 92 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. PrEP gained FDA approval in 2012, and in 2014 the CDC estimated 50,000 people contracted HIV every year in the U.S.

Taking PrEP is covered by most health insurance and people without coverage can access a patient assistance program.

“There are certain communities that we don’t feel we’re not reaching as well. We really want to make sure that African-American gay men, Latino gay men and transgender women know about PrEP,” said Tracy Parker, director of the Health Department’s Community Health Equity and Promotion branch.

HIV councilmember Paul Harkin, an on-and-off member of the council since 2002 and the manager of GLIDE’s HIV and hepatitis C program, represents people who are homeless, use drugs and struggle with mental health issues.

“I work with the most marginalized populations and always want to be sure they have a seat at the table,” Harkin said. “Getting to zero means everybody, not just the most easily accessible folks.”

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