The plan: Zero new HIV diagnoses in New Jersey by 2025
Down from 1,722 in the middle of last decade, New Jersey saw 1,048 new HIV diagnoses in 2017.
Is it possible that number gets down to zero, or close to it, by the year 2025?
Health officials and professionals think so, as long as there are plenty of partners working toward the goal.
As a first step to "end the HIV/AIDS epidemic," the state Department of Health is joining the Rutgers School of Public Health and nearly 800 organizations nationwide to support a campaign highlighting the effect that HIV medications have in preventing the spread of the virus.
When people living with HIV are taking medications as prescribed, and have maintained an undetectable amount of the virus in their body, there's effectively no risk of sexual transmission. As the campaign indicates, undetectable equals untransmittable.
"Reducing the number of new infections ultimately will be the first step in bringing an end to the epidemic completely, in the absence of a cure which we still don't have," Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, told New Jersey 101.5.
Vaccine trials are in the works, Halkitis noted, and medications have become more powerful with each generation.
"Certainly we have the tools to keep the number of new infections contained," he said.
Currently more than 37,000 New Jersey residents are living with HIV, according to the state. From July 2016 to June 2018, more than 1,200 people were linked to a program through which counselors provide a medication — PrEP — to those at significant risk of contracting HIV.
More than 79,000 free, confidential rapid HIV tests were administered at a host of locations in New Jersey last year.
"Scientific advances in HIV care and treatment are game changers than can get us to the vision of a future in which new HIV infections are rare," said DOH Commissioner Shereef Elnahal. "In New Jersey, the rate of new HIV cases has declined 39 percent in nearly a decade because of success in getting people tested for HIV and linked to treatment."