Louisiana diagnosed 989 people with HIV last year, its lowest number of new HIV cases in at least a decade in a state with a heavy number of infections within the African American community.
Although Louisiana ranked in the top 10 states to register the highest number of new HIV cases in 2017, the latest numbers from 2018 are a welcome decline that state officials hope reflect a new trend, according to NOLA.com.
Overall, new HIV transmissions have declined by 12 percent over the past three years, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. State officials attribute the decrease to the state’s Medicaid expansion, which provided greater access to medication like PrEP, a daily pill that prevents HIV and increased screenings.
“This provides even more support for the importance of knowing your status and taking control of your infection to suppress the virus in the body,” Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary for the state’s Office of Public Health, told NOLA.com. “As we have said before, undetectable equals untransmittable.”
Out of the state’s 989 new transmissions, roughly three-quarters of these cases were male and African-American. Blacks accounted for 70% of the new diagnoses, while whites made up 23%, Hispanics 6%, and Asians 1%.
Health professionals found Louisiana’s news hopeful and possibly indicative of what’s to come.
“I feel as though we will actually see the end of HIV in our lifetime,” Fran Lawless, director of the Office of Health Policy & AIDS Funding, within the New Orleans Health Department, told Nola.com. “I think that’s just on the horizon. This year is the first that I felt that might actually come to fruition. Things were pretty bleak when I first entered this area.”
Billioux agreed that Louisiana has battled HIV and other health challenges that have at times felt “insurmountable.” But she pointed to the Medicaid expansion as proof that it works in bringing access to treatment to vulnerable populations. Billioux also compared other southern states, like Georgia, which did not expand Medicaid, and how its numbers continue to rank among the highest in the nation. According to Nola.com, Georgia saw 2,698 new HIV diagnoses in 2017, the most recent year data was available, which translates to a rate of 30 people per 100,000. By comparison, Louisiana’s rate dropped from 28.9 in 2016 to 26.6 in 2017.