|Every New Jerseyan Ages 13 Through 64 is Encouraged to Get Tested in the
Fight to End the HIV Epidemic
TRENTON – As the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) joins the worldwide observance of World AIDS Day this December 1 in remembrance of those lost to HIV/AIDS, NJDOH applauds the numerous organizations tirelessly working with New Jersey communities living with, at risk of, or affected by HIV each day to advance the end of the HIV epidemic. This year’s theme is Let Communities Lead.
With community involvement being such an integral part of Ending the HIV Epidemic, NJDOH has sponsored an initiative called “My Voice, Our Stories,” where members of the communities infected and affected can share their voices, tell their stories, impact services and reduce stigma, highlighting that they are more than their disease. This initiative seeks to bring community voices to the table and create partnerships in service development to improve health outcomes.
The state continues to make progress toward the goal of ending the HIV epidemic by 2025. “A Strategic Plan to End the HIV Epidemic in New Jersey by 2025” was developed by the New Jersey Taskforce to End the HIV Epidemic and announced in 2021. Its goals are to:
· Reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75%;
· Promote access to testing so that 100% of persons living with HIV/AIDS know their status; and
· Promote access and linkage to care so that 90% of persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are virally suppressed.
“State and federal investments have helped us progress in our goals to End the HIV Epidemic but there is still a great deal of work to do,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Kaitlan Baston. “I encourage all residents ages 13–64 years to get tested for HIV at least once, and those at higher risk, to get tested annually. A vital part of our efforts to end the HIV epidemic is the expansion of Harm Reduction Centers, a proven strategy to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by injection drug use. We continue our efforts to expand harm reduction strategies and improve linkage to care to improve outcomes.”
More than 37,693 New Jersey residents are currently living with HIV/AIDS. Preliminary 2022 data show that there were 1,095 new adult/adolescent HIV/AIDS diagnoses reported, compared to 1,129 in 2021 and 1,105 in 2017.
The state’s strategy to end the HIV epidemic focuses on addressing disproportionate rates of new infections by raising awareness among disproportionately-affected populations and connecting individuals to the testing and care that they need.
So far in 2022, over 5,600 patients received HIV-related medications and health insurance coverage through the New Jersey AIDS Drug Distribution Program. Individuals who need help with HIV medications can call 1 (877) 613-4533 or talk to their case manager.
To date in 2023, 631 people were linked to pre‐exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention (PrEP) through the New Jersey PrEP Counselor Program. Through the 35 PrEP funded agencies across the state, a network of PrEP counselors provide medication—a pill a day OR an injection once every other month—to those at significant risk of contracting HIV.
Increasing testing access
It is estimated that, nationally, 13 percent of people infected do not know their HIV status, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Earlier in 2023, NJDOH released a “Dear Colleague” letter to medical providers supporting routinized HIV testing; released “A Test and Treat Clinical Guidance for Practitioners” to operationalize routinization; and hosted a Routinized Testing Summit in June for HIV service providers. A follow-up webinar is scheduled for December to support agencies interested in updating their policies and practices to ensure all New Jerseyans ages 13–64 years are tested for HIV at least once. It is also recommended that persons at higher risk for HIV infection, which the CDC defines to include sexually active gay and bisexual men, should be tested at least annually.
NJDOH is also working through private/public partnerships to support electronic medical record changes in clinics ready to implement routine testing. These partnerships are also working to provide training and technical assistance to help approximately 15 sites move closer to providing routinized testing, including working on testing in county jails that are in areas with the highest disease prevalence.
Increasing linkages to care
The NJ AIDS/HIV/STD Hotline at 1-800-624-2377 is free, confidential, and available 24/7 to connect individuals to prevention, testing, and treatment services. New Jersey’s HIV testing sites are available across the state.
Increasing numbers of individuals diagnosed with HIV have been linked to care within 30 days since 2017, according to the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH). In addition, NJDOH also has seen a steady increase in the number of individuals taking medication and achieving viral suppression – the inability to spread HIV. Viral suppression is important because having an undetectable level of HIV means an individual cannot transmit the virus.
In addition, 78.8% of individuals newly diagnosed with HIV were linked to care within 30 days in 2022, up from 75.0% in 2021 and even further back, 69.4% in 2017. Viral suppression rates for those who had at least one care visit remained at 85.4% in 2021 and 2020, up from 80.5% in 2017. Early data from 2022 shows a 32% increase from 2017 when measured at six months after diagnosis. Timely linkage to care is crucial when first diagnosed with HIV to allow people to immediately start taking medications and suppress the virus in their body to a level that they can no longer spread HIV.
Further efforts to end the HIV epidemic include expanding harm reduction services throughout the state. Since July 2023, New Jersey has more than doubled the number of Harm Reduction Centers, which provide harm reduction counseling and supplies to prevent and reduce the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases and prevent overdoses. So far in 2023, 2,691 clients have been served and 1,195,766 new syringes distributed.
For more information on NJDOH’s Division of HIV, STD and TB Services, visit nj.gov/health/hivstdtb.
Follow the New Jersey Department of Health on X (formerly Twitter) @njdeptofhealth, Facebook /njdeptofhealth, Instagram @njdeptofhealth, Threads @NJDeptofHealth, and LinkedIn /company/njdeptofhealth.