The number of new cases of HIV in New York City dropped to “a statistically significant low” last year, with 8.6 percent fewer new diagnoses than in 2015, according to the city Health Department.
The department’s HIV Surveillance Annual Report report says 2,279 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2016, fewer than the year earlier and a big drop from the 5,906 new cases the department logged in 2001, its first year of tracking.
“I would even go so far to say that it’s good and big news,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the Health Department’s deputy commissioner for disease control, to the New York Daily News. “I’m pretty euphoric about the news, to be honest.”
The report shows a sharp drop in the number of new cases in men who have sex with men. Within that population, diagnoses dropped 14.8 percent, to 1,236 cases.
Daskalakis told the Daily News that he believes the decline can be attributed to the widespread use of a pre-exposure prophylaxis drug, better known as PrEP, which has been increasingly prescribed to men who have sex with men. The preventative drug is taken by those not diagnosed with HIV, but who could be at risk.
PrEP has been available since 2012, but the Health Department estimated that only 5 percent of men who have sex with men were using PrEP at the start of 2016. That number rose to 30 percent by the end of the year.
Despite the strides in lowering cases for men who have sex with men, new cases for women have risen ― particularly for black and Latina women, who comprise more than 90 percent of new cases. The city plans to encourage women-focused providers to provide prescriptions for PrEP to their patients.
“When the providers of care for women really buy into pre-exposure prophylactics and understand its role, all of a sudden they’re prescribing to their patients,” Daskalakis told the Daily News.
The report also notes that among those who have HIV in the city, 76 percent have achieved “viral suppression.” This means they have a greatly reduced chance of passing HIV to others. Individuals with HIV can achieve viral suppression by taking antiretroviral medicines and maintaining an undetectable viral load for a period of at least six months.
Daskalakis told the Daily News he’s “excited.”
“If this is what happened in 2016, I can only imagine what’s going to happen in 2017 in terms of accelerating the decline of new infections,” he said.
Here’s where to find PrEP in New York City.