San Francisco, Calif. – In its recently published annual report on the state of HIV/AIDS, San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) documented 160 new diagnoses of HIV in the city in 2021, a 16 percent increase from the year prior. While the rise in new cases is troubling, it marks the first increase since 2012 and may be attributable in part to factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, this recent rise in cases illustrates the need for continued vigilance to ensure this data trend is only a momentary back-slide in the progress of ending the HIV epidemic. As Dr. Susan Buchbinder, co-chair of the city’s Getting to Zero steering committee, noted, “This report underscores how much work needs to be done to get to where we need to go.” Now more than ever, increased investment must be given to organizations who have done the work to educate, test, and treat individuals living with, and at risk of, HIV. The long-term trend of reduction in cases prior to the pandemic is a testament to the work being done by the San Francisco Community Health Center (SFCHC) and our many community partners.
SFCHC is uniquely positioned to help lead these efforts. As a BIPOC and LGBTQ+ led organization, SFCHC has the cultural context, lived experience, and established trust to engage communities that many deem “hard to reach.” At SFCHC, those are the very same communities centered in our work.
SFCHC’s efforts to end the HIV epidemic include:
- Providing health education and Linkage to Care through in-person outreach to residents in shelters, encampments, and navigation centers across the Tenderloin and SoMa. Linkage to care services include those offered at SFCHC and community partners (e.g., Mission Neighborhood Health Center, Instituto Familiar De La Raza, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Alliance Health Project).
- Operating a Street Medicine program that provides HIV specialty care and additional primary care services to residents in the Tenderloin.
- Supporting health centers in the uptake of their RAPID ART protocol to improve viral suppression in marginalized communities as well as reduce transmission rates.
- Providing comprehensive HIV services focused on Trans, unhoused, and API communities.
- Training Community Ambassadors across other community-based organizations to increase awareness and outreach surrounding PrEP and HIV prevention, STIs, and cultural appropriateness.
- Advocating for an increased workforce to support PLWHA across San Francisco healthcare settings.
Yet, despite the incredible work being done by SFCHC and our community partners, we understand that this is not enough. Disparities in HIV diagnosis and linkage to care disproportionately burdens unhoused individuals. In fact, the number of HIV cases among unhoused individuals has risen in the last decade. Alongside this disparity is a rise in deaths among people diagnosed with HIV due to causes unrelated to HIV, such as drug overdose.
Thus, there is no adequate response to combatting HIV infection if it does not include a robust strategy to address the social determinants of health (i.e., housing, poverty, access to care, discrimination/stigma, drug usage, etc.).
As we enter what many refer to as the “last mile” in the fight to truly end the HIV epidemic in San Francisco, let us remain vigilant and allow these two principles to guide our work:
- Community-based organizations and grassroots organizers are well equipped and have demonstrated success and impact in leading efforts to engage the communities most impacted by HIV.
- Our HIV work should follow a framework that includes prevention, treatment/linkage to care, AND continued vigilance to eliminate structural inequities and stigma that exacerbate disparities and overall negative health outcomes.
About San Francisco Community Health Center:
San Francisco Community Health Center is an LGBTQ and people of color community health center that believes everyone deserves to be healthy and offers the highest quality medical, dental, and behavioral health care. We foster resilience, belonging, and healing for all communities. To us, health care will always be grounded in social justice.
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For more information regarding available sponsorships or to learn more about San Francisco Community Health Center, visit https://sfcommunityhealth.org or call (415) 292-3400.