West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico and City Councilmember John Duran are proposing that the city launch a campaign to reduce the HIV transmission rate in West Hollywood to zero by the Summer of 2017.
The goal is similar to that of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who in June announced a plan to reduce the number of new HIV infections in New York State by 2020 to 750 from the current 3,000, bringing the number of new cases below the number of annual deaths from AIDS and other HIV complications. “Thirty years ago, New York was the epicenter of the AIDS crisis,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing the campaign. “We are in a position to be the first state in the nation committed to ending this epidemic.” Cuomo’s announcement was seen as an effort to win the support of gay voters in his re-election campaign this year.
In their proposal to the City Council, D’Amico and Duran, who are openly HIV positive, said their goal is for West Hollywood to become the first “HIV zero transmission” city in the nation by 2017.
D’Amico and Duran are asking that the Council allocate $10,000 toward an effort to “develop a strategic plan and social services campaign to achieve the necessary objectives of eliminating transmission through testing, treatment, access and adherence.” D’Amico is running for re-election to the City Council in March, and his support for the campaign might help him rally support from West Hollywood’s gay community, the young members of which are not thought to participate in elections.
There is no treatment on the immediate horizon that will eliminate HIV, the virus that weakens the immune system and can result in death from one of several diseases caused by autoimmune deficiency syndrome, known as AIDS. But the introduction of new forms of treatment over the years have rendered HIV a largely survivable condition. The fact that such treatment has weakened the HIV virus to the point that it is undetectable (although not eliminated) in some people, and the emergence of strategies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), in which HIV-negative people take a daily dose of Truvada to reduce their change of infection, has raised the hopes of some HIV activists that new infections can be eliminated.
In their proposal, D’Amico and Duran say the effort “will include collaboration with existing HIV service providers and programs, medical personnel, and state, local, and federal agencies to educate the community and on biomedical prevention tools and look at stigma and barriers to treatment and care. The goal of these efforts is to mobilize the community to work with the city in accomplishing its mission to achieve zero transmission.
They are asking that city staffers “speak with social service providers, local doctors, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Division of HIV and STD Programs, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Office of National AIDS Policy and the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV in the next 90 days to seek input on the development of the strategic plan and resulting educational campaign.”
They do not propose working with AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest non-governmental HIV/AIDS organization, which is based in Los Angeles. Michael Weinstein, AHF’s president, is an outspoken opponent of PrEP, arguing that promoting it over condom use will lead to a situation where more people have unprotected sex. Users of PrEP must take a dose of Truvada daily for it to be effective. D’Amico and Duran have spoken in favor of PrEP.
Other AIDS experts also have argued that it is possible to end the epidemic. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a leading AIDS researcher, said at a conference last year that that “we can end the AIDS pandemic in the next 10 years.”
However some experts agree with Weinstein that the big problem is ensuring adherence to anti-HIV infection medications and safe-sex practices.
Forty percent of West Hollywood’s 34,500 residents are gay men, one of the groups most at risk of HIV infection. The percentage of gay men in West Hollywood who are infected with HIV depends on the source, with the numbers ranging widely.