December 1 marks World AIDS Day. In Virginia, 24,853 people are living with HIV disease, 47% of whom have progressed to an AIDS-defining condition. This year’s theme is: “Leadership. Commitment. Impact.” We are now better equipped than ever to fight HIV and VDH leadership is committed to impacting the HIV epidemic in our state. Our mission is to make Virginia the healthiest state in the nation and to do that we must prevent new HIV infections and help those living with HIV get in care, stay in care, and live well.
The Virginia Department of Health recently released its Virginia Integrated HIV Services Plan, showcasing the goals, objectives, and activities to help stop the spread of HIV in our state and improve the health of all Virginians living with HIV. One component of the plan includes the promotion of HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, (PrEP), a pill taken daily to prevent HIV. Another piece of the plan includes linking newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals into medical care sooner and keeping them in medical care—this will include promoting and assisting clients with enrollment into a health insurance plan and the development of new services to help people take their medication regularly. We will evaluate success of implementation of the Virginia Integrated HIV Services Plan on measures of the HIV Care Continuum. Achievement of viral suppression, or having a low viral load in the body, is the optimal health outcome for those living with HIV. In 2015, 42% of people living with HIV were virally suppressed, but through continued HIV prevention and treatment programs, collaboration, and connection with our communities, we can reach our goal of 80% by the year 2020.
We can all be leaders and make a commitment to stop HIV, not only this World AIDS Day, but every day. Get educated about HIV. Get tested for HIV. If you are HIV-positive, get in care and stay in care—talk to your doctor about how you can live a healthy and longer life. Find an event near you for World AIDS Day and remember those that we have lost in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Pledge to stand with us and help make Virginia the healthiest state in the nation!