The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met with other health care leaders in Austin on Tuesday to discuss the need for "disruptive" strategies to address the growing number of HIV infections in Central Texas.
Robert Redfield said the state ranked seventh or eighth in the number of new infections.
“There’s a significant contribution of Texas to the HIV epidemic,” he said. “And as such ... Texas is going to play a big part in the solution.”
That solution refers to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ aggressive goal to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent in five years and by 90 percent in 10 years. The department is specifically targeting seven states with high rural HIV cases and 48 counties for their high number of new HIV infections. Five of those counties, including Travis County, are in Texas.
The initiative would require funding from Congress.
Redfield said in some places, the number of infections is stagnating.
“We’ve got the mileage out of the [current] system,” he said. “In the absence of doing anything, we’d anticipate nationally another 400,000 people in the next decade will acquire HIV.”
In the last seven or eight years, he said, the rate of infection among young African American and Latino men who have sex with men has increased 60 to 70 percent.
Paul Scott, the CEO of AIDS Services of Austin, said his organization is reaching out to those communities, but faces some obstacles.
“When it comes to health equity issues, communities of color – African Americans and Latinx – traditionally have mistrust of the health care system," he said.
Scott said his group is reaching out to people where they are in the community, including creating pop-up shops for condom distribution or talking about sexual health to migrant day laborers looking for jobs.
“We’re celebrating the 50-year anniversary of what many people thought was probably impossible, which was putting a man on the moon and getting him back alive,” Redfield said.
"Many people, truthfully, have not put the science into action to bring an end to HIV because ... we didn't have the leadership before," he said. "They didn't believe it was possible. And President Trump understands it's possible."