World AIDS Day 2020 highlights innovation in efforts to end HIV in Minnesota
December 2, 2020
This World AIDS Day, celebrated Dec. 1 each year, health officials are highlighting the innovation and resiliency shown by providers and patients in 2020 as they adapted to new ways of approaching HIV testing, services and outreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
HIV history is rich with tales of resilience and transformation. HIV advocacy has always required unique, collaborative approaches from a wide range of partners. COVID-19 continues to transform the landscape of HIV outreach and connection to care.
“Our partners on the front lines are doing innovative work during this pandemic,” said Christine Jones, manager of STD/HIV/TB programs at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). “COVID-19 has reduced clinic hours and made HIV testing even more challenging due to social distancing requirements. From enhanced outreach efforts to linking people rapidly to care, service providers across the state are adapting to answer the call to end HIV in Minnesota.”
Creative approaches have become the new norm for linking people who test positive for HIV to care. A recent CDC study shows small incentives make it more likely that people will stay in HIV care long-term. MDH has begun supporting clinics to incentivize first and second HIV care visits, increasing the likelihood that people will continue care.
Additionally, several frontline organizations have connected their care providers directly to outreach workers. Now, when someone tests positive for HIV, a health care worker is available at a moment’s notice to meet with the client.
“Connecting people to care quickly is important for getting them the support and treatment they need to live long and healthy lives,” said Jones. “When taken as prescribed, HIV medications can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, making it impossible to pass HIV to sex partners. This is often called Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U), or U=U. It’s a significant step forward in our efforts to stop the spread of HIV.”
Advancements such as U=U and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the daily pill that prevents HIV – are very effective. These and other strategies are the cornerstones of END HIV MN.
Released in 2019, END HIV MN is a comprehensive long-term plan to end new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV in Minnesota. END HIV MN was developed in partnership by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and MDH with key input from people living with HIV, community members and other partners.
“We have the tools and the know how to bring an end to the HIV epidemic,” said Mariah Wilberg, statewide HIV strategy and services coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. “After 39 years, we have it in our power to prevent one more infection, and we can make sure people who are living with HIV stay healthy. The END HIV MN plan lays out how we do that.”
New HIV diagnoses in Minnesota has remained relatively stable, with 275 cases reported in 2019. However, significant disparities remain. Men who have sex with men continue to have higher rates of HIV, and more than half of all new HIV cases in 2019 were among communities of color. Additionally, more than one-third of new HIV diagnoses were among people under 30 years old and HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs has continued to increase.
Providers across the state can safely offer vital HIV services, such as testing. MDH recommends everyone between ages 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once. Get tested yearly if you do not know the HIV status of your sex partners or if you share injection equipment. Find a testing place near you at HIV Testing. If you are injecting drugs or other substances, access Syringe Service Programs for sterile syringes, naloxone and harm reduction services.
As part of the acknowledgment of World AIDS Day this year, MDH leaders encourage people to attend virtual events to celebrate the long history of creative resilience as well as this year’s successes. Many MDH partners are hosting virtual activities or events, including:
Tuesday, Dec. 1
Hennepin County Ryan White Program's 25th Anniversary
• A virtual event to look back at accomplishments with local community leaders and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Ryan White Program.
• 10-11:30 a.m. Microsoft Teams Live event: Hennepin County Ryan White 25th Anniversary
Celebrate World AIDS Day with Twin Cities Gay Mens Chorus (TCGMC) and Aliveness
• The event will be brief and showcase the TCGMC premiere song.
• 11-11:30 a.m. YouTube event
HIV/AIDS Stigma in African-born Community
• Virtual presentation on HIV/AIDS stigma in African-born community in Oromo, Amharic, Somalia and Kswahli languages.
• 5-7 p.m. Zoom event: RSVP with 612-245-4895
Minnesota African/African American Women HIV Initiative’s 11th Annual Virtual Sarah Simmons Showcase!
• There will be additional performances by local artists.
• 6-8 p.m. Zoom event