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NJ Department of Health Commemorates World AIDS Day

New Jersey

By: Yuritza Arroyo

Continuing to work toward the state’s goal to end the HIV epidemic by 2025, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) joins community and health partners throughout the state to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1 to support the more than 38,000 New Jersey residents living with HIV/AIDS, remember those lost, encourage all New Jerseyans aged 13–64 years to test for HIV at least once.

According to officials, it is also recommended that persons at higher risk for HIV infection, including sexually active gay and bisexual men, should be tested annually.

Officials say, this year’s theme is Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.

“We continue to make progress in reducing HIV infection and continue to work toward the goals set forth in New Jersey’s strategic plan,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Getting tested for HIV is critical to protecting your health.”

Healthcare professionals should offer an HIV test as part of routine care.

“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.

The task force was comprised of clinical and community‐based service providers, advocates, educators, researchers, members of HIV/AIDS planning groups, persons living with HIV/AIDS and state health department staff.

The plan, which represents the state’s commitment to end the HIV epidemic by 2025, sets the following goals:

  • Reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75%
  • Promote access to testing, so 100% of individuals living with HIV/AIDS know their status
  • Promote access/linkage to care, so 90% of those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are virally suppressed

Among steps taken to date, in January, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation decriminalizing sexual activity by persons infected with HIV or a sexually transmitted infection.  

To date in 2022, 490 people have been linked to pre‐exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention (PrEP) through the New Jersey PrEP Counselor Program.

Through the 37 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.

New Jersey currently has seven 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.

In partnership with the state Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, these seven Harm Reduction Centers now include low-threshold buprenorphine access.

To date, the centers have served almost 2,500 clients and distributed almost 1.1 million new syringes – significantly reducing the use of used syringes among people who inject drugs. NJDOH is also in the process of updating harm reduction rules and expanding harm reduction access in the state.

Routine preventative screenings for HIV and other STIs were often delayed or disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Whereas there were 1,153 new adult/adolescent HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 2019, only 860 cases were reported in 2020.

The state’s strategy to end the epidemic focuses on addressing disproportionate rates of new infections by raising awareness among disproportionately-affected populations and connecting individuals to the testing and care they need.

  Similar to findings in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vital Signs, New Jersey has found that gay and bisexual men, particularly men of color, have been disproportionately impacted and accounted for almost half (49.3%) of newly diagnosed cases of HIV in 2020.

Specific populations disproportionately represented in HIV diagnoses in 2020 include Latino gay and bisexual men (200 diagnoses, 23.1%), Black gay and bisexual men (140 diagnoses, 16.2%), and Black and Latino women (27%), especially transgender women of color.

So far in 2022, over 5,600 patients received HIV-related medications and health insurance coverage through the New Jersey AIDS Drug Distribution Program.

New Jersey facts:

  • Nearly 80 percent of persons living with HIV/AIDS are 40 years of age or older.
  • People of color account for 77% of adult/adolescent HIV/AIDS cases ever reported to the state and 80% of all persons living with HIV.
  • Thirty-one percent of those living with HIV/AIDS are female; 32% of females living with HIV are currently 20-49 years old.