Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, alongside Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Governor Gina Raimondo signed the Paris Declaration in a State House ceremony Monday.
In signing the declaration, the three leaders committed to putting Providence and Rhode Island “on the Fast-Track to ending the AIDS epidemic through a set of commitments. Those commitments include achieving the UNAIDS 90–90–90 targets, which will result in 90 percent of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, 90 percent of people who know their HIV-positive status on antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads, keeping them healthy and reducing the risk of HIV transmission.
“Rhode Island and the Providence partnership that we’re doing together, represents the first city/state group to join this world wide 90-90-90 campaign.” said Dr. Alexander-Scott in announcing the new effort.
The announcement and signing ceremony came as part of the Rhode Island HIV Prevention Coalition‘s event held ahead of World AIDS Day 2015, which is today. The event was hosted by Kira Manser, the coalition co-chair.
Speaking at the event was Dr. Philip Chan, who works with AIDS patients at Miriam Hospital. Chan said that to curb the spread of HIV we must concentrate on a few areas. First, we must focus on access to care, especially among gay and bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Second, we must “address other STDs like syphilis, which has increased exponentially across the country. Third, we need to perform routine, opt-out HIV testing, to make sure that everyone gets tested at least once in their life. Fourth, we need to get people who are HIV positive on PrEP and lastly we need to need to work together, government and health officials, to end the epidemic.
Richie DeFilippo, the reigning Mr. Gay Rhode Island, explained the importance of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylactic. “PrEP is a preventative measure of HIV negative individuals to take daily to prevent them from contracting the virus.” It’s a pill taken once a day, but it is very expensive without insurance. DeFilippo aspoke of some of the social and economic barriers that prevent the effective use of PrEP.
Stephen Hourahan, executive director of AIDS Project RI, talked about the stigma still attached to the disease. Hourahan talked about the misunderstanding and stigma attached to the Charlie Sheen announcement. Stigma prevents many from getting tested for HIV, and increases transmission as a result.
The most energetic talk was given by Paul Fitzgerald of AIDS Care Ocean State. “Prevention without advocacy is no justice,” said Fitzgerald, before coming out from behind his podium and leading the audience in activist style chants. “We are not silent! We are not silent!” he shouted to applause. “We have activism to reach! We have people to change! We have policy to make! We have initiatives that must come about, to fruition. And it starts with us. It goes beyond these doors. Every place that we are we should be fighting about AIDS. We should be fighting about those people who cannot access services because they are not there, because they are not paid for, because there’s a political issue.”