California needs a plan to end HIV, hep C and STI epidemics

Courtney Mulhern-Pearson, MPH

HIV, hepatitis C and sexually-transmitted infections in California are a public health crisis. More than 5,000 Californians are diagnosed with HIV every year—more than in any other state in our nation. Hepatitis C is a completely curable virus, yet nearly half a million Californians are living with the debilitating symptoms of HCV infection. Sexually-transmitted infections are reaching record levels too—with more Californians diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017 than ever before.

Now maybe you’re asking—but what can we do about it?

Over 130 organizations have signed a community consensus statement calling on Governor Newsom and the California State Legislature to develop and implement a strategy to end the HIV, HCV and STI epidemics. But, our coalition won’t be successful without support and advocacy from our community members.

We need your support and help to help make the case to our elected officials.   

We need a statewide plan to end the HIV, hep C and STI epidemics

California has the tools and ability to end these epidemics, but we lack a comprehensive statewide plan that outlines a clear path forward. The state is missing opportunities to coordinate our efforts in strategic ways: Although some municipalities are making headway, other parts of our state are being left behind. Inequitable funding is widening disparities and current plans lack coordination, input and buy-in from key state departments. The state is lagging behind others in effectively addressing HIV, HCV and STIs in all counties.

Brandie Wilson, from the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction in Eureka, said that there is a dire need for expanded hepatitis C testing, treatment and cure services in California—and that a statewide plan to end hepatitis C transmission would go a long way to serve people living with hepatitis C who also experience poverty, homelessness and who inject drugs.

“The need especially in our rural area is absolutely critical,” said Wilson. “The rate of injection drug use is very high, and we have a lot of poverty and homelessness. We just started legal syringe exchange in 2016. When we first started curing people of hepatitis C, we found that many people had just resigned themselves to getting hep C or having it as a way of life. Not having access to syringes, treatment or cure for decades has really gotten us to an unhealthy place.”

Lestian McNeal, from the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles, said that a statewide plan would help eliminate some of the health disparities evident in rates of HIV, STIs and hepatitis C.

“Lack of access to quality education, poverty, racism, medical mistrust and a variety of other things work together to increase a person's chances of being diagnosed with HIV, STIs and hepatitis C,” said McNeal. "Disproportionately, the people who are impacted are Black and Brown. In order to end these epidemics and help all communities, we must develop strategies that address the needs of the most disadvantaged communities and develop solutions that address the structural and systemic barriers in our society that perpetuate these health disparities for Black Californians.”

Jim Rhyne and Valerie Coachman-Moore, from WeCanStopSTDsLA, highlighted the importance of investing adequately in plans and funding for STI prevention and treatment.

“People of color, young people and women are at the forefront of the STD epidemic in LA, and unfortunately, California is leading the nation in terms of diagnoses,” said Rhyne. “That’s not where we want to lead.”

“Black women and girls have to be a priority,” said Lashea Brown, program coordinator for Black Women for Wellness. In 2016, Black women and girls faced five times the rate of STIs compared to their white counterparts. Government officials, educators and community organizers will have to work collectively if we are serious about ending this epidemic. Black women are the highest propensity voters in California and it is the duty to hold those in office accountable of our livelihood. Our health can no longer be ignored.”

With Governor Newsom now in office, it is time to urge the Governor and state legislature to commit to a comprehensive statewide initiative. It is time for bold action and an integrated response to eliminate health inequities.

Sign the petition as part of the HIV Advocacy Network

Over the last year, a group of 85 public health and community leaders have been meeting to build support for a statewide strategy and put together this call to action, that aims to increase the number of people who are aware of their status, increase access to prevention services, ensure people can be linked to care, train health care providers and more. Through the joint effort of community, all levels of government, and the private sector, we can achieve a once unthinkable goal. Please add your voice to the call for Governor Newsom to move the process forward.

Sign the petition and show your support.

Get involved and find out about additional advocacy opportunities by joining our HIV Advocacy Network. Text SFAF to 52886 to join the HIV Advocacy Network.

Read the consensus statement

The group of organizations leading this initiative are part of the End the Epidemics: Californians Mobilizing to End HIV, HCV, and STDs. Read the consensus statement with more information about the project, here.



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