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NYC Reports Early Success In Bronx-Wide HIV Testing Initiative

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Early results show that HIV testing has increased by 20% since the launch of a borough-wide testing campaign earlier this year. The Health Department released the encouraging findings today, as part of a city-wide commemoration of World AIDS Day. The Bronx Knows, as the initiative is called, now has more than 50 partners in the community and is well on its way to reaching the nearly 250,000 Bronx adults who have never had an HIV test. The preliminary results are based on a comparison of HIV tests provided at a sample of partner sites in 2007 and during this year’s campaign.

In honor of this year’s World AIDS Day theme – “leadership” – the Health Department urged all New Yorkers to follow the lead of Bronx residents and get tested for HIV. “Bronx residents are leading the city in the fight against HIV/AIDS by getting tested,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. “We salute them, and we thank the community groups and health care providers who are helping to make HIV testing routine and accessible. We urge all New Yorkers to stay safe, get tested, and get care if they are positive.”

“Today marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day,” said Dr. Monica Sweeney, the Health Department’s Assistant Commissioner for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control. “A lot has changed since 1988, but New York City is still at the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic. The Bronx is showing that New York City is also the capital of HIV awareness. Knowledge is power – and where HIV is concerned, knowledge starts with learning your status.”

Dr. Sweeney will post observations on a live blog as she participates in World AIDS Day events on Monday. She will visit York College in Queens, Montefiore Hospital, and attend a Bronx Clergy Taskforce event in Co-op City and a candlelight memorial service at St. Augustine Church in Brooklyn.

“The Bronx Knows initiative is making HIV testing the norm,” said Dr. Susan Amenechi-Enahoro, Director of HIV Services at Morris Heights Health Center, a partner in the Bronx Knows Campaign. “HIV testing carries less stigma when it’s a routine part of medical care. And when more people get tested, we reduce the risk that positives will go undiagnosed and untreated until they’re sick with AIDS.”

Dr. Donna Futterman, Director of the Adolescent AIDS Program at Montefiore Medical Center, is a community co-chair of the initiative. “As a doctor who has cared for HIV positive adolescents in the Bronx for the past 20 years,” she said, “I know that routine testing is the only way we can reach the hundreds or even thousands of people who are unaware of their status and therefore not accessing life-saving care. This campaign is an historic opportunity to mobilize our borough. We may become the first community in the nation where everyone knows their status.”
New HIV Data for 2007

Although deaths due to HIV/AIDS have continued to decline – from 1,209 in 2006 to 1,115 last year – the Health Department estimates that 4,800 New Yorkers are newly infected each year. And new diagnoses are rising among young men who have sex with men (MSM). The number of new HIV diagnoses jumped by 8% among MSM under 30 last year – to 664 from 613 in 2006 – and the proportion of HIV diagnoses attributed to sex between men has climbed steadily, rising from 28% in 2001 to 43% in 2007.

Of the 3,787 New Yorkers newly diagnosed with HIV last year, 921 were already sick with AIDS, meaning they had gone undiagnosed for an average of a decade.

New Strategies to Slow the Epidemic

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In its continuing effort to fight this epidemic, the Health Department is using an array of new tools and strategies. They include:

* Helping New Yorkers with STDs contact partners by e-card. New Yorkers can notify partners electronically anonymously or by name through inSPOT’s web site, www.inspot.org. Since New York City joined inSPOT in May 2007, more than 7,000 e-cards have been sent through the site.

* Helping newly diagnosed people get into care. The Health Department has deployed staff to work in nine city hospitals to link HIV-positive people to care. Besides helping newly diagnosed patients find services, counselors talk with them about notifying their partners. About 2,000 people have participated in this voluntary program so far, and 85% of them kept their initial doctors appointments.

* Using social networks to increase testing. As part of its grassroots efforts, the Health Departments trains people throughout the city to serve as leaders in their neighborhoods, educating their peers about HIV and encouraging them to seek out testing. Between May and September this year, more than 550 New Yorkers accessed testing through this program, and 23 learned they were positive.

* Giving away millions of NYC Condoms. The Health Department has distributed more than 36 million condoms this year, and continues to give away more than 3 million every month at clinics, health clubs, bars, barbershops and other venues.

How to protect yourself and others from HIV:

* Have one partner in a mutually exclusive relationship. If you are having sex, this is the best protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

* Reduce the number of people you have sex with. More partners mean more risk.

* Use condoms every time you have sex. If you and your partner are monogamous, get tested before having unprotected sex. If you’re HIV-positive, use condoms to protect yourself and others – and get regular health care.

* Avoid using alcohol and drugs before you have sex. Being drunk or high makes it hard to remember to use condoms.

* Know your HIV status. If you have ever had sex or injected drugs (even once), get tested for HIV. If you have any potential exposure to HIV, you should be tested at least once a year.