HIV/AIDS Prevention Work Effective

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The New Mexico Department of Health announced today that Hispanics now represent about half of new HIV/AIDS infections in New Mexico. The Department of Health examined its HIV/AIDS data after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of Americans infected by HIV is about 40% higher than the federal agency had originally estimated.

The CDC study found that African Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of new HIV infection than other racial or ethnic groups. In 2007, African Americans in New Mexico represented 5 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases. Hispanics made up 45 percent of the cases and Caucasians were 33 percent. New Mexico has seen a steady rise among new Hispanic cases since 2003, according to the Department’s Epidemiology and Response Division.

“We are proud of the work we have done to prevent HIV in New Mexico and provide needed treatment for people infected,” said Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Vigil. “However, we need to expand our efforts for atrisk Hispanics after seven years of flat funding and resources from CDC.”

The Department spends about $3 million in federal and state funds for statewide prevention strategies targeted toward populations at risk of contracting or spreading HIV. The Department is seeking grant funding this year to build a stronger network of programs targeting Hispanics.

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The CDC study also pointed to the importance of data collection, which can help state and federal agencies develop appropriate prevention strategies. The Department’s Epidemiology and Response Division recently launched a new webbased data system that will enhance its ability to examine newly reported cases of HIV/AIDS and emerging trends.

The new CDC data showed an 80% decrease in new infections among injection drug users. New Mexico’s HIV prevention work includes one of the nation’s model Harm Reduction programs, which exchanges clean needles for used ones to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Six percent of New Mexicans who were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2007 contracted the virus by injecting drugs.

“Our statewide programs that provide clean syringes in exchange for used syringes have been successful in keeping HIV infection rates low among injection drug users,” said Dr. Steve Jenison, medical director of the Department’s Infectious Disease Bureau. “These programs give us the opportunity to provide ongoing education about how a person can reduce their risk of getting HIV. The benefits to the individual and to the public health are huge."

In addition to prevention strategies, the Department continues to emphasize the importance of getting tested for HIV at 90 statewide test sites and as a part of routine medical care.

In 2007, the New Mexico Legislature and Governor Bill Richardson amended the state’s HIV Testing Act to eliminate the requirement for comprehensive HIV pretest counseling so that more doctors would be able to test their patients. Treatment for HIV is most effective when started early. Providers still need to inform patients of testing, and patients can decline to be tested. “Unfortunately, about half of New Mexicans are diagnosed with HIV when they have already progressed to advanced HIV disease (AIDS),” Dr. Jenison said. “We need to be diagnosing people earlier in the course of their HIV disease, when the benefits of treatment can be more fully realized. New Mexico law now makes it much easier for doctors to provide HIV testing in routine primary care settings.”

At the end of 2007, there were 1,322 people living with HIV and 2,155 people living with AIDS in New Mexico. The Department of Health began tracking AIDS data in 1981 and HIV in 1998.

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