Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SF Again Lowers HIV Stats for 2007?

Just last week, the San Francisco health department very quietly released the latest HIV/AIDS epi report and we saw that the stats continued falling down. There's been a 44% drop from 2003 to 2007 in HIV figures, and it appears that the HIV stat for 2007, at 467 infections, is actually lower.

Complicating the picture painted in that annual report are the minutes and a slide-show from the July 10 HIV Prevention Planning Council meeting, that were web-posted by DPH earlier this week.

At that meeting, DPH HIV experts presented a most interesting slide, number 24, containing the following text and numbers:

Clients and Contacts (SPs 4/1/2007 – 3/31/2008; CTL (Counseling, Testing, Linkage program of DPH] 1/1/2007 – 12/31/2007)

Syringe program contacts
43,899 contacts
2,355,999 syringes accessed

CTL Network as a whole (includes funded and non-funded sites)
16,846 tests run
344 positive tests
309 newly-identified people with HIV (1.8%)

The info from the CTL Network is fascinating for so many reasons, starting with simply having raw numbers like that. One of the most frustrating things about following HIV/STD stats in San Francisco is that DPH can be coy about sharing number of tests performed, poz results and new infections, but here all that data is presented.

And what we see is that the 309 figure is at odds with the annual epi report's figure of 467, a difference of 158. Could the annual report be taking into account 158 new HIV infections reported from private doctors' offices? Why such a wide gap in the numbers? Accepting, if only for argument's sake, that the 309 number is closer to the genuine number of new infections for 2007, it puts the number really at odds with official DPH claims.

The minutes from the HPPC meeting show a question, left unspecified by the note-taker, was raised by a longtime person with AIDS and advocate, Ken Pearce, obviously putting the 309 stat in the proper epi context:

Slide 34 – In response to Ken Pearce’s question Dara Coan said that the 309 newly-identified HIV(+) cases found at SFDPH facilities (operated, funded, and partnered) is about half of the reported new diagnoses and about one-third of new infections in SF total.

Oh, so we have DPH stats that seriously undermine other DPH figures, and the 309 number could represent a real bright spot in controlling HIV here, and it wasn't much discussed by the HPPC! It's almost as if people are embarrassed by the tumbling HIV stats. Heck, the revelation of the 309 number is so unimportant to DPH it wasn't in the first 2 or 3 slides, but the thirty-fourth slide, essentially burying the good news.

If only DPH would deign to hold public meetings about all the latest HIV stats, or at least put our news releases calling gay community attention to the good developments, I'd be able to say the folks running AIDS Inc are truly interested in ending the epidemic in San Francisco.

But the silence from DPH and the AIDS groups tells me there is much in the numbers for the bureaucrats to fear.

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