The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday June 29th

Activists unite on World AIDS Day to end new diagnoses of HIV

But Dr. David Wohl, a professor at the UNC School of Medicine, said more work needs to be done.

“The progress that we’re making is not a sprint that gets you across a finish line and then you’re done,” he said. “It’s an ongoing endeavor, it’s a journey that never ends.”

Wohl is the director of the North Carolina AIDS Training and Education Center, which teaches HIV prevention methods to medical professionals.

In 2011, an estimated 1,664 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in North Carolina — the country’s eighth highest number of diagnoses that year.

Wohl said treatment is the most important way to prevent the spread of HIV.

“We should get people with HIV in treatment and focus on keeping them in treatment — not just telling them to use condoms,” he said.

Of those nearly 40,000 individuals diagnosed with HIV in 2015, the majority of them were young men who were sexually active with other men, Wohl said.

And 43 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2013 came from nine states across the South, including North Carolina, according to a report from the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative.

Carolyn McAllaster, the director of the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative, said bringing funding to rural areas affected by the virus has become a focus.

“We’ve been pushing for more resources dedicated to HIV prevention outside of the big cities,” she said. “We know our epidemic in North Carolina is dispersed across a lot of cities like Durham and in the rural areas of the state.”

Lee Storrow, executive director of the N.C. AIDS Action Network, said he is concerned about people who do not know their HIV status.

“If you know your status, you can get access to medication, get your viral load suppressed — and the current science and data shows that you will not transmit HIV to another individual,” he said.

One form of treatment is pre-exposure prophylaxis, which the CDC calls PrEP, a daily medication that decreases the probability of contracting HIV by 92 percent, which Wohl said is available at UNC Campus Health Services.

Storrow said the biomedical tools needed to end HIV are available.

“The question is, do we have the political will to do the things we need to do to make sure everyone has access to health care and medication,” he said.

Wohl said HIV/AIDS prevention funding can be political.

“In the past, when Republicans control Congress, we have seen flat or decreased funding for the (National Institutes of Health), and that translates into people getting infected and people dying,” he said.

McAllaster said she is concerned those living with HIV will lose health care access under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

“If the Affordable Care Act is replaced, we hope that it will be replaced so that low-income people with serious chronic illnesses will have access to affordable health care,” she said.

Wohl said people who have unprotected sex with partners whose HIV statuses are unknown should be aware of treatment and prevention options.

“We need to make sure that every man who has sex with men knows about PrEP and has an on-ramp to access and get it if they want it.”

@The_Davestroyer

state@dailytarheel.com


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