It has been 30 years since the fight against HIV began and 20
years since the Ryan White Care Act was passed. About 575,000
Americans have lost their lives to AIDS.
But because HIV is treatable, many think it is no longer a public
health emergency. Yet while the annual number of new infections
has not risen in years, the number of individuals living with HIV
continues to grow, creating an increasing pool of people capable
of transmitting the disease.
In Texas, the number living with HIV/AIDS has increased 42
percent since 2002. In Dallas County, 13,500 were estimated to be
living with HIV/AIDS in 2008, an increase of 33 percent over six
Unless we intensify prevention efforts, the number of infections
- and costs for care - will continue to rise. The lifetime cost
of treating HIV is about $355,000 per person, or $25,000 a year,
a substantial cost for the county and state.
President Barack Obama recognized the need for a renewed
commitment to fight this epidemic and announced a national
HIV/AIDS strategy last month. Its goal is to:
* Reduce the number of people who become infected through
concentrated community efforts and education.
* Increase access to care and improve health outcomes for people
living with HIV.
* Reduce HIV-related health disparities.
One of the crucial steps in this strategy is to link individuals
to quality care. The years between HIV infection and AIDS are
critical for treatment and prevention of transmission.
Unfortunately, many only find out about their illness after AIDS
symptoms set in. Almost one in four of all recent diagnoses in
Texas received an AIDS diagnosis within one month of their HIV
status. Late discovery is common because of shortage of help,
costs, shame and risk of legal action.
To mitigate these barriers and increase access to testing, we
introduced legislation last session to implement the 2006 CDC
recommendations that incorporated HIV testing into routine
medical care. Most physicians will only test a patient if they
know enough about his or her life to assess risk. While health
fairs provide a resource for HIV testing, they often lack
privacy. This bill would have allowed individuals to obtain an
HIV test at their own doctor's office, regardless of risk status.
According to the CDC, more than 20 percent of people in America
with HIV are unaware they're infected. Every nine and a half
minutes someone in the United States is infected. There are
pockets in our legislative districts where infection rates rival
that of African nations.
Dallas County has the highest rate of HIV infection in Texas,
with 36 new cases per 100,000 residents. Harris County's
statistics are not far behind with 32.5 cases per 100,000.
We have made progress in HIV testing for special populations -
now it's time to reform our comprehensive HIV policy to extend
screening to all Texans. Studies have shown that the sooner a
person is made aware of infection, the sooner he or she will
adjust behavior to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to
others. The CDC believes that the number of new cases of HIV each
year could decrease by up to 30 percent with routine screening in
all heath care settings.
The two of us plan to submit this important public health
initiative again next session in Austin. Meanwhile, we urge all
individuals to take control of their health by getting an HIV
test; policy reform can only get us part of the way in the fight
against this epidemic.
**State Rep. Yvonne Davis represents District 11 in southern
Dallas County; her e-mail address is
Yvonne.Davis@house.state.tx.us . State Sen. Rodney Ellis
represents District 13 in the Houston area; his e-mail address is