White House has a vision to eradicate AIDS

The White House has a bold vision for the future of AIDS: entirely eliminate the disease.

Evelyn Foust, who oversees the communicable diseases section of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said this goal can be achieved in the near future.

“In order to end AIDS in the next generation, you leave no patient behind,” she said.

The William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education hosted a White House forum on HIV/AIDS strategy implementation Thursday, which was an update on the government’s progress toward ending HIV/AIDS.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina had the nation’s ninth highest number of AIDS diagnoses in 2010.

Foust said there are an estimated 35,000 residents of North Carolina with the disease — 7,000 of whom are unaware they are HIV-infected.

The speakers included Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy, and Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy.

Jacquelyn Clymore, AIDS and STD director in the N.C. Division of Public Health’s communicable disease branch, said keeping patients on their treatment schedules is critical.

“Getting (patients) on medication reduces their HIV viral load so they cannot transfer their disease,” she said.

Clymore said Dr. Myron Cohen, public health director of the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, proved in a study that people on HIV medication have a 96 percent chance of not transmitting the disease.

Clymore said these days, AIDS patients on viral suppressants can live a normal lifespan — in the 1980s, they were only expected to live five years.

“Short of a cure, that’s it,” she said.

Foust said in order to eliminate the disease, prevention is now paramount to end the fight.

She said all levels of government are collaborating to fight the disease.

She added that her agency gets real-time updates on which patients aren’t refilling their prescriptions or going to doctor’s appointments.

“You have to stay in treatment — it’s not a one shot deal,” Foust said.

An important factor in keeping patients in treatment is the bridge counselors that work on the local, regional and state level.

LeRoi Lattie, one of the counselors in Durham, said he’s committed to give people the care they need.

“When they don’t come in for their appointments, I’m on the phone calling them,” he said. “If they don’t answer the phone, I’m at the door knocking.”

Lattie said the counselors provide transportation for people who are unable to visit the doctor.

During the 1980s, Lattie said, he saw many of his friends die because of AIDS.

“I kept saying to myself, asking God, ‘Why me? Why am I still here?’” Lattie said.

“I think that’s the reason, I’m making a difference now.”

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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