Pittsburgh Renews Efforts to End the HIV Epidemic 40 Years After First Cases Reported

Richard Smith, chief relationship officer at JHF and chair of AFP, spoke during the Fast-Track City signing

On November 18, Mayor Bill Peduto designated Pittsburgh as a Fast-Track City, making Pittsburgh the latest member of a global network of over 300 U.S. cities and municipalities committed to ending the HIV epidemic by 2030. Through the Fast-Track City initiative, the City of Pittsburgh has pledged to work towards zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero stigma against people living with HIV, the only city in Pennsylvania to join the initiative to date. This renewed local commitment bolsters the ongoing work of AIDS Free Pittsburgh (AFP) and community partners to support people living with HIV and other key populations impacted by the epidemic, just over 40 years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported on what would become known as HIV in June of 1981.

In front of key stakeholders, including AFP members and other representatives from community organizations that provide services to people living with HIV, Mayor Peduto stated that he hopes efforts to end the HIV epidemic would not only be done "through the lens of medicine but the openness of minds and hearts." The mayor also acknowledged the significance of the Fast-Track signing falling just weeks before World AIDS Day (December 1), a day of remembrance and activism.

"While our local HIV infections have decreased in the last five years, there are still alarming disparities among young Black men who have sex with men…AFP has spent the past few years with community members and organizations to bring awareness to these disparities and work collaboratively to eliminate stigma and systemic racism so all citizens of Allegheny County can access the HIV-related services they need with equal equity, dignity, and respect," said Richard Smith, chief relationship officer at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and chair of AFP.

Since 2015, AFP has played a crucial role in local efforts to end the HIV epidemic in Allegheny County through working to normalize HIV testing, increasing access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that can reduce a person's chances of getting HIV, and improving linkage to care for those newly diagnosed with HIV. Employing a collective impact model, AFP functions as a collaborative public health initiative comprised of government agencies, healthcare institutions, and community-based organizations. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) has served for 29 years as the fiscal agent for funding from the Ryan White Part B, State 656, and HUD HOPWA (Housing and Urban Development – Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS) in the southwestern Pennsylvania region, supporting AFP's work. These funding streams facilitate the delivery of health care and supportive and housing services to eligible individuals living with HIV/AIDS and prevention/education services to at-risk populations.

AFP's efforts have proved successful: Allegheny County saw a 43% reduction in new HIV cases in between 2015 and 2020. In 2020, there were 2,982 people living with HIV and 79 new cases of HIV in the county, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (2020 Annual HIV Surveillance Summary Report).

In collaboration with JHF's Ryan White Part B program, AFP launched a redesigned website (aidsfreepittsburgh.org) with information on HIV testing and PrEP as well as resources for providers. The website provides an interactive map that allows individuals to easily identify healthcare providers and community organizations throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania who provide HIV testing, prevention, treatment, and supportive services closest to them based on zip code. The new site is part of JHF's large Ryan White program media campaign, funded by a $900,000 Pennsylvania Department of Health grant. This campaign expands AFP's existing outreach beyond Allegheny County, to increase awareness of support services available to people living with HIV in Allegheny County and Southwestern PA.

In honor of World AIDS Day, agencies across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are hosting events that include free HIV testing, COVID-19 vaccinations, information on housing resources, and virtual panel discussions about HIV. (More information here.)

Though the tools exist to achieve an AIDS-free county, progress is still needed to reduce health disparities, increase testing, employ prevention strategies, and ensure rapid linkage to care. AFP continues to work alongside government and community partners to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 and ensure a sustainable and equitable impact.

Read more here in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pittsburgh joins international initiative to end HIV epidemics by 2030 

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