CDC director visits Houston as part of initiative to stop spread of HIV in 10 years

HIV is a crisis the Houston Health Department is targeting with the help of a new grant, and on Monday the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined in on an aggressive campaign to curb the spread of it. 

Harris County is one of just 48 counties in the U.S. where more than 20,000 people are diagnosed wih HIV each year, CDC Director Robert Redfield said during his discussion with a group of Houston Public Health leaders.

"This is a once in a generation opportunity for us to put the tools into action that we've spent decades doing the science," said Redfield.

Redfield toured the Harris County Public Health mobile HIV testing unit and strategized with Houston leaders on a plan to end the local spread of HIV. 

"We have recently formed an End HIV task force within the health department," said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director at Harris County Public Health. 

This year the Houston Health Dept. received a unique federal grant, allowing it to form the I Am Life Campaign to spread awareness about prevention options to those most at risk of acquiring HIV. According to the Health Dept., Houston's most at-risk group includes African American and Latino men having sex with men and transgender persons of color ages 13 to 34. 

"Treatment is a really important prevention strategy," said Redfield. "If we could get everybody diagnosed in the country and get them on treatment and get them suppressed, the outbreak would stop."

Redfield says it's all part of President Trump's anti-HIV initiative announced in his State of the Union address this year. 

"My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States," President Trump announced in the February 5 address. 

"The president's initiative is to bring an end to the HIV epidemic in this nation over the next ten years," said Redfield.

The new grants targeting Houston and other HIV hotspots aim at getting more people diagnosed, getting more people into care and treatment, and increasing prevention strategies. 

"Over 50 percent of them have been infected for more than three years, yet they didn't know they were infected," said Redfield.

FOX 26 is partnering with the Houston Health Department on the I Am Life Campaign to help spread awareness on the issue through the rest of 2019.