2020 was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was also the target for New York to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Ending it meant fewer than 750 infections per year, but the state didn't get there.
On World AIDS day in December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released numbers from 2019 showing the state had “bent the curve” with 2,377 new infections.
Although the trend is heading in the right direction, John Barry, Executive Director of the Southern Tier AIDS Program, said the state’s ballooning budget has impacted some harm reduction programs and resulted in new infections, including a recent HIV outbreak in Rochester.
According to Barry, the state is withholding some contracts as it waits on COVID-19 aid from the federal government, which might not come.
“Because the state has been slow to pay contracts a lot of syringe exchange programs—our three included—are running out of supplies to give people, and when people do not have those supplies they’re forced to reuse them or share them,” Barry said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-sterile injections can also lead to viral hepatitis, bacterial and fungal infections and other complications. Wounds from broken needles or abscesses as a result of someone not having an alcohol wipe to clean their arm before injecting leads to trips to the emergency room.
Another huge concern for Barry is the state’s proposed diversion of a rebate program, 340B, which funnels money from pharmaceutical companies to smaller clinics that provide care to people on Medicaid. He explained the clinics are not otherwise not financially viable and will close without the money.
“We’re talking about people losing access to specialized care and HIV is one of those things.”
Barry predicted these funding cuts will result in even more new infections.