Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, along with Denver Public Health, say they want to end the "AIDS epidemic" in the city by 2030. While there's still no cure or vaccine for the virus, Dr. William Burman says the goal is attainable if one thing doesn't get in the way -- stigma around the virus. He directs Denver Public Health and specializes in infectious diseases, and spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Highlights from the conversation are below. Click on the audio above to listen to the full interview.
Dr. Burman on why Denver is primed to reach this goal:
"I think it's the experience of having worked in [HIV and AIDS care] for a long time, and having developed the people part and the information part. That makes us feel we can both do the things that need to be done to end AIDS as well as measure it. Measurement is really critical in helping us all understand where we are, where we need to improve and how to do that."
On the arc he's witnessed in HIV/AIDS treatment:
"In 1992, when I started in this field, no I don't think we could conceive of this day. At that time, we didn't have effective therapy. We had a couple of medicines that weren't that effective and didn't last very long. And we were mostly treating complications. So the idea that we could both completely control the virus and have this kind of reduction in new infections, really seemed impossibly far off [back then]."
On the key finding of the last decade:
"[Learning how to control HIV] dramatically decreases the risk of transmission to others. So treatment as become prevention. [...]
"HIV, if undetected, can be asymptomatic for years. So a person can, without their knowledge, potentially expose others. That's the power of diagnosis and treatment -- to take a person who may have had an infectious disease for a long period of time and make them non-infectious."
On why removing stigma is so important:
"It affects all the steps: someone's willingness to be tested or even think about testing, and then once tested, their willingness to get into care... to receive ongoing medication. All those are greatly affected by stigma. For example, I've had patients who have great difficulty telling anyone in their life they have HIV. So they're on treatment and have to hide the pills."
- Get more information about PEP and PrEP
- Learn about the HIV Behavioral Surveillance System in Denver
- Denver Public Health's efforts to address the HIV/AIDS stigma