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    Back-to-HIV Rally and Die-In Held at San Francisco City Hall

    While San Francisco has been a leader in the fight against COVID-19, it has come at a price for other health programs. In a city once world-renowned for its innovative and effective prevention and treatment for people living with HIV, a number of alarming setbacks in these areas have resulted during the past two years as funding and resources have been diverted for the COVID pandemic, including the following:

    • HIV testing is down by 44% from 2019;
    • rates of viral suppression have dropped from 75% to 70%;
    • among homeless persons living with HIV, only 20% have reached viral suppression, a decrease from 50% in 2019;
    • PrEP use has decreased, leading to potential new HIV transmissions;
    • during times of lockdowns, clinic visits decreased, interrupting testing and early treatment;
    • and San Francisco’s long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS still lack adequate access to deeply affordable housing, harm reduction, mental health care, social housing, and economic assistance

    (Source: 2020 HIV Epidemiological Reports from City & County of SF Dept of Public Health)

    A coalition of HIV organizations and activists on Monday, March 21, staged a rally and die-in on the steps of City Hall to bring attention to this situation, and demanded that San Francisco treat the HIV community as a population with the greatest social need, as defined by Senate Bill 258 (the HIV & Aging Act).

    It is clear that sheltering in place for COVID has severely impacted HIV services, but it is necessary to determine exactly how severely, and where these services need to be bolstered. To that end, the rally’s organizers and supporters demanded that hearings be convened by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and the Human Rights Commission to address these issues, as each body uses a different set of tools to measure this impact, and determine what steps to take to mitigate the effects.

    Dr. Monica Gandhi, who is not only a widely respected infectious disease expert and leading voice on COVID-19, but also the medical director of Ward 86, the HIV Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, was the keynote speaker at the rally. In a recent interview with long-term survivor activist Hank Trout on the San Francisco AIDS Foundation website, she said, “I think the HIV treating community, i.e., healthcare workers, need to team up with activists, community, and patients like we did in the ’80s to again raise awareness that HIV is not over and that more resources and support should go towards HIV/AIDS. Our strength in HIV activism has always been researchers, clinicians, patients, advocates, and activists working together. We need to do this again to ‘take back’ HIV as a major priority in our city.”

    In addition to Dr. Gandhi, other speakers included:

    Paul Aguilar – a longtime survivor of HIV/AIDS and a member of the HIV Caucus, Harvey Milk LGBTQ+ Democratic Club;
    Harry Breaux – a longtime survivor and founder of The San Francisco Principles;
    Hulda Brown – a longtime survivor and a member of Shanti’s Honoring Our Experience;    
    Vince Crisostomo – a longtime survivor who is the Director of Aging Services, SFAF;
    John Cunningham – Chief Executive Officer, National AIDS Memorial;
    Nikos Pecoraro – an overdose survivor and member of the HIV Advocacy Network;
    Michael Rouppet – a longtime survivor and housing advocate;
    Liliana Talero – health educator, Shanti Project (she spoke in Spanish at the event);
    Dr. Tyler TerMeer – Chief Executive Officer, San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

    Co-sponsors of the event included the HIV Caucus of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ+ Democratic Club, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, The San Francisco Principles 2020, HealthRight 360, and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 86.

    Published on March 24, 2022