News, Culture & Society

Rate of new HIV infections in New York City plummets to historic low

The number of new HIV diagnoses in New York City has dropped below 2,000 for the first time since records began in 2001, officials reveal.

Last year, 1,917 New Yorkers were diagnosed with HIV, down from 2,157 the year before, and a from 4,846 in 2001.

It comes on the heels of data showing an uptick in the number of people in New York City taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a drug which reduces a person’s risk of contracting HIV by 99 percent. 

While rates have been steadily dropping for years, this new report shows a promising drop in rates among women, which have not been falling as quickly. 

Declines in new HIV diagnoses were seen among in all five boroughs, all races, men and women. There was an age discrepancy: rates fell among those aged 49 and older, but not so much among younger age groups

Health Commissioner Dr Oxiris Barbot said the record is a testament to the city’s campaigns that have sought to educate New Yorkers about ways to have safer sex, rather than demonizing sex.   

‘We take a data-driven, sex-positive approach to HIV prevention that is firmly grounded in equity—and we are proving that it works,’ Barbot said. 

‘New York City can end the epidemic if we continue to fight against the stigma, bias and discrimination that continue to be significant drivers of HIV, particularly among Black and Latino men who have sex with men.’ 

Declines in new HIV diagnoses were seen among in all five boroughs, all races, men and women. 

There was an age discrepancy: rates fell among those aged 49 and older, but not so much among younger age groups. 

Dr Oni Blackstock, Assistant Commissioner for the Health Department’s Bureau of HIV, said: ‘These data show the power of our dynamic, forward-thinking approach to ending the epidemic, and what we can achieve when community and government come together to prioritize science over stigma and sex-positivity over shame. 

‘But there is still work to do. Until we see equitable progress among New Yorkers from all walks of life, we must double down on our efforts to fight the institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of stigma that put people at greater risk of HIV infection and, for people with HIV, put care and treatment further out of reach.’

New York has long been a vanguard in fighting HIV, with ad campaigns promoting drugs to prevent contracting HIV, and drugs that can make one’s HIV untransmittable.

For people who do not have HIV, a drug known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 99 percent (i.e. more effective than the Pill is at preventing pregnancy).

For those who do have HIV, ART (anti-retroviral therapy) should be taken to suppress the virus. After six months on ART, the virus will become undetectable, and will therefore be untransmittable. 

This year, New York City plastered subways with posters of couples, declaring ‘HIV cannot be passed if the virus is undetectable’, to spread the message.  

And, recently, a report by DOHMH researcher Paul Salcuni revealed prescriptions for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the drug that protects HIV negative people from contracting the disease – increased almost 1,000 percent in New York City between 2014 and 2016. 

‘More than 100,000 New Yorkers have tragically died because of HIV/AIDS—but in this generation, we have the opportunity to end this epidemic once and for all,’ said Senator Brad Hoylman. 

‘It’s so exciting to see New York City’s policies making a difference, with new HIV diagnoses in 2018 down by 67 percent since 2001.’


Prior to 1996, HIV was a death sentence. 

Then, ART (anti-retroviral therapy) was made, suppressing the virus, and meaning a person can live as long a life as anyone else, despite having HIV.

Drugs were also invented to lower an HIV-negative person’s risk of contracting the virus by 99%. 

In recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus untransmittable to sexual partners.

That has spurred a movement to downgrade the crime of infecting a person with HIV: it leaves the victim on life-long, costly medication, but it does not mean certain death.  

Here is more about the new life-saving and preventative drugs: 

1. Drugs for HIV-positive people 

It suppresses their viral load so the virus is untransmittable

In 1996, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was discovered. 

The drug, a triple combination, turned HIV from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable chronic condition.  

It suppresses the virus, preventing it from developing into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which makes the body unable to withstand infections.

After six months of religiously taking the daily pill, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it’s undetectable. 

And once a person’s viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to scores of studies including a decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health. 

Public health bodies around the world now acknowledge that U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable).

2. Drugs for HIV-negative people 

It is 99% effective at preventing HIV

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) became available in 2012. 

This pill works like ‘the pill’ – it is taken daily and is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV infection (more effective than the contraceptive pill is at preventing pregnancy). 

It consists of two medicines (tenofovir dosproxil fumarate and emtricitabine). Those medicines can mount an immediate attack on any trace of HIV that enters the person’s bloodstream, before it is able to spread throughout the body.


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