East Bay commits to ending HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Bay Area, especially among the homeless community

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The head of the Centers for Disease Control was on the ground in Oakland on Friday to assess the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Alameda County.

AIDS is still very much a threat in that county, especially among the homeless population.

"And I want you to know that Alameda County is going to be the first county that is going to end this epidemic," assured Congresswoman Barbara Lee. It was a commitment made by the Oakland Congresswoman to the head of the Centers for Disease Control.

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Why travel to Oakland? Because Alameda County is one of 50 locations still with the highest number of new HIV cases.

"Those 50 total jurisdictions represent more than 50 percent of all new diagnoses in America, when you realize that our nation has more than 3,000 jurisdictions," explained Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC.

Despite the positive work to reduce the number of new infections, advocates admit there is still a lot to do.

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While men-having-sex-with-men have known about PREP--the anti-HIV medication to reduce the risk of being infected, women have not been targeted.

"The issue with women is that there has been no provision for education for women around PREP," explained Carla Dillard Smith, executive director of WORLD which stands for Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases.

There are many barriers to getting to a cure, one that comes to mind is the lack of housing and homelessness.

"You have to put feet on the street," Smith said.

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So, we did. We approached the people in a homeless encampment in Oakland to see if they knew how to fight the epidemic.

I asked an older gentleman if he knew what PREP was. He did not know.

"I've had hepatitis C, but not HIV. But intravenous drugs, yes," said Tracy Peters, a homeless woman. I asked her if she, the city or county had ever offered her any help. She said "no."

Alameda County will now get funds to develop their own program to get to zero new infections.

"Everything is impossible until it's done, and we plan to get this done," Dr. Redfield said.
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