Washington state sees success in HIV initiative

The goal is to cut the infection rate in half by 2020.

SEATTLE -- - Washington state continues to make significant strides in reducing the infection rate of HIV, according to state health officials.

The overall reduction shows Governor Jay Inslee's mission, to cut the HIV infection rate in half by 2020, is on the right track.

His public health policy is focused on an awareness and advertising campaign for a drug called Truvada, also known as PrEP. Throughout much of Seattle, people see more billboards and signage from the state-sponsored campaign for Truvada.

“With some new medication and with new insurance that we have available, we think we can make some really bold strides forward on reducing HIV in this state," Inslee said.

In December of 2014, Inslee announced an initiative to eliminate AIDS, with a goal of reducing new HIV infections 50 percent by 2020.

“From 2010, we’ve gone from about 550 to 450 [new cases]," said Inslee. "We’ve got a long ways to go, obviously.”

Openly gay Seattle physician Rob Killian sees the results firsthand at his First Hill office. He says Washington state is leading the country, and maybe leading most of the world, in decreasing HIV infections.

"It’s a miracle and amazing," said Killian.

A good number of Killian's patients are taking Truvada -- a once-a-day medication that can prevent HIV infections after exposure to the virus.

“It like preventing pregnancy, but this pill is preventing HIV infection," explained Killian.

The state spent $2 million this year purchasing Truvada and insurance for high-risk people.

“The fact that we’ve got another half million people on insurance now to give them access to treatment is very important," said Inslee. "Having insurance helps, but even those who would not have insurance, we have a program ... to help people get access to this drug."

The campaign helped Washington reduce new HIV infections by 27 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to state health statistics. The number of new infections continues to go down steadily even as the state's population of those at risk grows larger.

“For 32 years I’ve been involved in the fight against HIV, and for the first time, I feel hope," said Killian. "I no longer talk about death or disability every day.”

But while there's been progress in the Evergreen State, Killian says there are a handful of states where new infection rates for HIV equal those of Sub-Saharan Africa. Inslee wants other states to follow Washington's lead by adopting public health policy that benefits everyone.

“If our state can make very small investments in this and save the enormous costs of HIV infection,  this is a great thing not only for health but for taxpayers as well," said Inslee.

By the end of June, more state money will be needed to continue providing uninterrupted access to Truvada and continue the work to cut new HIV infections in half by 2020.

Medical professionals say don't use Truvada (PrEP) as an alternative to safe sex. It is recommended to take advantage of both PrEP and safe sex practices. While PrEP is highly effective in preventing the spread of HIV, no drug works 100 percent of the time.

Copyright 2016 KING


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