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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – As events around New York mark World AIDS Day today, city health officials are recommending anyone living with HIV be offered AIDS drugs as soon as they are diagnosed with the virus.
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More than 110,000 people in New York City are infected with HIV, more than in any other U.S. city and about 75 percent of all cases in the state.
For those infected with HIV, taking AIDS drugs is an aggressive move that has been shown to prolong life and stem the spread of the disease.
Standard practice has been to have patients put off the expensive pill regimen, which can cost up to $15,000 a year in the United States, until the immune system weakens.
But Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said recent studies have shown that the benefits of early treatment, combined with education and testing, appear to be a promising strategy for countering the epidemic.
“I would say I’m more optimistic now than I’ve ever been about this epidemic,” Farley told 1010 WINS. “I’ve been involved in it for over 30 and it’s mostly been bad news over the years, but now I can say confidently that I feel like we’re winning and I’m hopeful that during my lifetime we can drop our new infection rate to zero.”
City health officials said the new recommendation could initially help about 3,000 people get on medications. About 66,000 New Yorkers living with HIV that the Health Department tracks are being effectively treated with AIDS drugs, they said.
“What we’ve seen is that with the advent of what we call H.A.A.R.T., or highly active antiretroviral therapy, that patients are living longer and many of them will live full lives and die of another disease and not HIV,” Dr. Vicki Sharp of the new St. Luke’s-Roosevelt West 17th Street HIV/AIDS clinic told WCBS 880.
In Washington, President Barack Obama renewed the U.S. commitment to ending AIDS by setting new goals for getting more people access to those life-saving drugs and boosting spending on treatment in the U.S. by $50 million dollars.
“We can beat this disease,” Obama declared at a World AIDS Day event at Georgetown University.
In New York, several city landmarks, including Madison Square Garden, the Apollo Theater and Radio City Music Hall, will be dimming their lights tonight as part of World AIDS Day.
The Empire State Building will light up in red tonight in honor of the red ribbon for HIV/AIDS awareness.
The AIDS charity Bailey House is also having events today at Harlem Hospital, including speakers, presentations and poetry readings.
“Really looking back and celebrating the lives of the thousands of homeless men, women and children who have died and we’re also celebrating life, those who are still living with HIV and AIDS,” Bailey House CEO Gina Quattrochi told 1010 WINS.
Bailey House provides HIV/AIDS testing throughout the year.
At Trinity Church today, the names of those who have died of AIDS will be read aloud.
Other events around the city include candlelight vigils and a march and rally in Lower Manhattan.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)