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City announces backfills for CDC cuts

by Cynthia Laird

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell and gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy this week announced that the city will backfill $4.2 million in federal cuts to HIV/AIDS programs, including funding for the Getting to Zero initiative that aims to significantly reduce HIV transmissions.

Meanwhile, city officials on Wednesday said that the number of new HIV infections for 2017 is 223, which shows a leveling off, Sheehy said.

The money is included in the mayor's proposed two-year city budget.

According to the mayor's office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cut HIV prevention funds to San Francisco. The mayor's budget plan includes $2.8 million over two years to backfill losses from the federal government through the CDC.

Such reductions in federal funds have been ongoing for the past several years. The city has long backfilled the shortfalls.

The money funds disease surveillance that informs HIV prevention programs to address prevention and care disparities.

It also supports linkages to care in San Francisco jails, at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and coordination of syringe access and disposal programs.

"We have made remarkable advances in reducing HIV infections and improving the lives of people living with HIV," Farrell said in a news release, "but we must continue to fight against this ongoing public health threat."

Sheehy told the Bay Area Reporter this week that the backfill for CDC cuts will help the city's strong foundation of HIV programs as it works on Getting to Zero.

"I think what this does is sustain existing programs," he said, referring to the jails and SFGH.

"HIV testing at SFGH is the bedrock" by which rapid testing enables people to immediately enter treatment, one of the goals of Getting to Zero, he said. "That testing in the hospital is where we pick up a lot of infections."

Sheehy, the board's first known person living with HIV, also said the funds for syringe access and disposal are crucial, especially as the city moves toward establishing a safe injection site.

"I want to salute the mayor, it looks like he'll support a safe injection site," he added.

A spokesman for Farrell confirmed that the mayor is supportive of safe injection sites.

Sheehy will face voters June 5 in a special election to serve out the remainder of gay now-state Senator Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) term. His challenger, gay attorney and City College trustee Rafael Mandelman, fully supports backfilling the federal cuts, he told the B.A.R. during a recent editorial board meeting.

Sheehy said that he's been working with Farrell for the last few weeks to make sure the backfill will be funded and that Getting to Zero will be fully funded.

Last year, the city learned that a change in the CDC's allocation formula would result in a loss of $1.4 million in each of the upcoming five-year grant cycles, which began in January.

The late mayor Ed Lee utilized the $10 million state and federal reserve included in the current Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget to backfill $700,000 of the cut through the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Regarding Getting to Zero, which Sheehy helped initiate a few years ago, the city's proposed budget includes $1.4 million over two years to backfill existing funding for the program.

"As co-founder of San Francisco's Getting to Zero Consortium, I am heartened by the funding to sustain existing efforts and continue our innovative GTZ initiatives so we can meet our ambitious targets for 2020, including getting below 50 new transmissions," Sheehy said in a statement. "I applaud Mayor Farrell for continuing San Francisco's historic commitment to lead in the fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and 'get to zero.'"

Lesbian Health Director Barbara Garcia said the city is in a "good position" to reach the GTZ goal.

"San Francisco has pledged to get to zero in the battle against HIV/AIDS," she said in the release. "Thanks to major accomplishments in care and medication, along with syringe access, community partnerships, and world-class research, we are in a good position to reach that goal."

She added, however, that San Francisco will not reach its goal if it doesn't fix "disparities that impact African-American, Latino, and homeless people in our city."

"This funding boosts our ability to reach these communities and tailor outreach, prevention, and treatment to meet their needs," she said.

Responding to the new surveillance numbers, Sheehy said the 223 figure "highlights why the funding is so important."

Getting to Zero, which includes city, public, and private partnerships, aims to reduce HIV transmissions to zero, HIV deaths to zero and eliminate stigma by 2020.

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