A new bill introduced on Thursday aims to not only lower HIV, Hepatitis C, and other STI rates in California, but comes with an ultimate goal of eradicating the HIV epidemic throughout the state.
The new bill and vulnerable demographics
SB 859, introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would have the California Health and Human Service Agency (CHHS) and the California Office of AIDS join together to form an advisory committee on how to combat STI rates throughout the state. The new committee would look into programs, policies, and other means of lowering infection rates and ending the epidemic levels of HIV cases in California.
Annual updates would also be required each year through 2030 to show how the new programs have been working.
Despite overall lower rates of STDs and STIs over the range of several decades, California has recently seen a spike of infections. HIV infection rates have seen drops in many demographics, African-Americans, Latinos, and low-income Californians have either seen negligible declines or increases between 2013 and 2017.
Stopping HIV and STI infections
The higher infection rates, prior STD and HIV legislation such as decriminalizing HIV transmission with SB 239 in 2017, and the vulnerability of these communities spurred Senator Wiener to introduce SB 859.
“We know exactly how to end new HIV and STI infections, epidemics that disproportionately impact marginalized communities, stated Senator Wiener earlier this week. “We simply need strong political will to make it happen. This legislation will create that political will, by pushing California to craft a plan and invest the resources needed to end the epidemics of HIV, hep C, and other STIs. A combination of testing, prevention, and care will help us dramatically decrease new infections.”
“We have the tools to end new infections of HIV and STDs,” added Senator Wiener in a later statement. “What we’re missing is political will. This bill, SB 859, would require California to make a plan to end this epidemic, and help state agencies access the necessary resources to do so.”
“California must be a leader on these issues, and right now we’re at risk of falling behind. SB 859 would a big step towards finally ending the epidemic.”
Sexually transmitted disease experts largely agree.
“California in particular is vulnerable to this, as we’ve seen,” noted Dr. Sylvia Richardson, who had previously treated patients with STDs at free clinics in Los Angeles. “If you don’t make much money or have health-insurance, you can’t afford to treat STDs.”
“If we’re talking HIV, some people may not even know they have it. I’ve treated many people who didn’t even know what it was or thought that it didn’t exist anymore. We don’t like to think this can happen, or don’t believe that people don’t know this, but people do think this. They might not have the education, or the hospital visits, or the money, but that’s where we are, and it speaks volumes to where we are at now in California.”
Potential issues with SB 859
The bill currently has no formal opposition, but there may be questions over what the proposed advisory committee would do and how it would enact programs and measures to reduce HIV and STI rates.
“There’s a lot open to interpretation right now, especially this early,” explained Dr. Richardson. “What I can tell you is that health officials would welcome any help with open arms.”
“Education, especially early education, has been proven to work over time. Some people want results quickly, but this isn’t something we can just treat and end overnight. To truly end it we have to inform and teach people about the dangers so dropping rates don’t shoot back up.”
Other plans across America
A similar plan to SB 859 introduced in New York in 2014 has seen a 40% drop in HIV cases in 5 years. Nationwide, the CDC is currently trying to stop the nationwide HIV epidemic by 2030 by targeting at-risk areas.
If passed, California would join New York and the CDC in fighting HIV infection rates, as well as having some of the toughest legislation nationwide in combating Hepatitis C and other STIs.
SB 859 is expected to enter Senate Committees in the coming months.
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