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Maricopa County has one of the highest rates of new HIV infections

CDC Director Robert Redfield (center) visited Arizona on Wednesday to discuss Arizona's efforts to help end the nation's HIV epidemic. He was joined by ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ (left) and Dr. Eric Tack, who's the interim clinical administrator for AHCCCS (right). (Griselda Zetino/KTAR News)

PHOENIX — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was in the Valley on Wednesday to discuss Arizona’s role in helping end the nation’s HIV epidemic.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity now to bring an end to the AIDS epidemic,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield.

He pointed to a new study that finds Maricopa County is among the 50 local jurisdictions in the United States that made up nearly half of new HIV diagnoses in 2016 and 2017.

One reason is Maricopa County has a large concentration of Latino and African-American men between the ages of 25 and 34, two demographics that haven’t seen a significant reduction in the transmission of HIV.

In light of this new study, the CDC is encouraging those jurisdictions to come up with a plan as part of a nationwide initiative, which President Donald Trump announced during his State of the Union address in February.

The goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75% in the next five years and 90% in the next 10 years.

“This is ultimately going to be a plan that’s going to be developed here locally by the community for the community and in the community to try to determine … how can we do things differently in this community so that the results are such that we bring an end to the HIV epidemic,” Redfield said.

He said the plan should include efforts to increase diagnoses, increase treatment and embrace evidence-based prevention strategies.

There are currently more than 18,000 people living in Arizona who’ve been diagnosed with HIV, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“We know that there are those that are undiagnosed and that’s who we’re trying to reach out to identify and encourage to get tested,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of ADHS, said.

Christ said the state is ramping up efforts to battle the HIV epidemic. Those efforts include making it easier for people covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which is Arizona’s Medicaid program, to get Truvada for PrEP. It’s a medication that helps prevent the spread of HIV.

Starting in October, providers will be able to prescribe Truvada for PrEP to people covered by AHCCCS without prior authorization, a process that used to take days.

Of the 1.8 million people who have health insurance through AHCCCS, about 1,300 are projected to be at high risk for getting HIV and would likely receive Truvada for PrEP.

Redfield applauds the move by AHCCCS. He said Truvada for PrEP has proven to significantly reduce the risk of getting HIV.

“Diagnosed and successful treatment of all individuals that are living with HIV is one of the most important prevention strategies that we can operationalize,” he added.

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