SF AIDS Foundation CEO Neil Giuliano
When Mayor Art Agnos first established World AIDS Day on December 1, 1988, a diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence. 26 years later, San Francisco is at the forefront of efforts to end the disease once and for all, having pledged zero new transmissions and zero new infections in the city by 2024. A crazy-ambitious goal? Yes. But the craziest thing about it is that it just might work.
Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, almost 20,000 people have died in San Francisco. But as the CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Neil Giuliano, recently told us, the city’s goal is to eliminate new cases by 2024. Though this seems like a fanciful goal, the city is not far from the mark. From 2004 to 2011, new infections dropped from 600 per year to just 300.
Part of the city's approach is continuing to encourage condom use and frequent testing. Part is the promotion of Truvada, which is taken regularly to prevent new infections. Though the drug was initially controversial, with some worried about efficacy and side effects, it has been embraced by the mainstream, including Castro Supervisor Scott Wiener, who recently made national headlines when he disclosed that he takes the medication. (As we wrote then: “Wiener did the near impossible: He took what has been maligned as a "party drug" for guys who want to have risky bareback sex, and made it pedestrian, routine, boring. He Wiener-ed Truvada.”)
The other prong of the city’s strategy is a rapid-response approach to new cases—getting people into treatment within a day of diagnosis. (TIME magazine recently wrote about it, as did The Advocate in March.) The goal is to deliver treatment so rapidly that new infections will have no chance to spread.
It’s a tall order, for sure. (After all, the city also has policy goals of zero waste production and zero transit deaths.) But here’s hoping we can pull it off. What better way to mark the day?