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New Federal Report: More Floridians Getting Needed HIV Treatments, Still More Needed

Viral suppression rates are rising among Florida participants in Ryan White programs
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Floridians living with HIV are increasingly getting the medications they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of the virus, according to a new report from the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

Last year nearly 55,000 Floridians received support through Ryan White-funded projects, which are designed to provide medical and other services to people living with HIV. In its annual data report, which was unveiled this week, the program showed that from 2013 to 2017, viral suppression rates went from 77 percent to 85 percent in Florida.

"When someone is on HIV medication today and they achieve viral suppression, meaning they're taking their medication regularly and we can no longer measure the virus in their blood—they are not cured, but their virus is suppressed—that someone living with HIV can live a near normal lifespan," said Dr. Laura Cheever, who is a leader with the Ryan White program, named after an Indiana teenager who was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s after a faulty blood transfusion and became a national poster child for the disease when he was initially refused re-admision to school.

Still, says Cheever, the program has work to do.

During this period, South Florida has had the highest new HIV case rates in the country, and viral suppression is part of a national strategy to reduce new cases.

According to the report, not all Floridians in Ryan White care have experienced the same levels of treatment. The rates of viral suppression are particularly low for Ryan White participants with unstable housing (66 percent), teens and young adults (71 percent) and transgender women (81 percent nationally).

"When people are living below poverty [level], accessing care gets more and more challenging because there are lots of competing life priorities," said Cheever. "So we need to make sure our program is meeting patients where they are, to figure out how we can best support a person."

You can read the full report here online.

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Sammy Mack
Public radio. Public health. Public policy.