Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights lead the city in new HIV infections, according to data released by the Health Department Thursday.
Hospital and clinic closures in Brooklyn may have worsened the response to the epidemic, an expert said, while the city announced last week that it would expand testing hours at public clinics.
Both neighborhoods combined had 162 diagnoses in 2014, the highest in the city in the latest year for which information was available.
“A number of clinics and hospitals have closed in Brooklyn, so the persons who were previously in care are no longer in care, and they’re engaging in [unprotected] sex, drugs,” said Suzanne Robert Davis, a program manager at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Family Health Center. “We have persons who are not accessing health care services at all, and they don’t know if they are HIV positive.”
She also said that the neighborhood has a large population of immigrants that don’t have access to health care, and that the disproportionate number of residents that have been incarcerated is another contributing factor.
Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen had the second-greatest number of new infections in 2014, with 140 in the two Manhattan neighborhoods, followed by 130 in Central Harlem and Morningside Heights.
Two Bronx neighborhoods were also in the top five, with Crotona and Tremont having 110 new infections and the South Bronx having 96 new diagnoses.
“There are infections in every neighborhood,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the Harlem-based nonprofit AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition. “You map your response and the intensity of your response to where the epidemic is. We have an epidemic that needs a response tailored to those that need it the most.”
To expand its efforts to prevent HIV and treat those who have it, the Health Department announced last week it would extend hours at its STD clinics by an additional 10 hours a week.
The extension is part of the NYC Plan to End the AIDS Epidemic, which coordinates with a larger state plan to bring new diagnoses down to 750 a year by 2020 in New York State. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced $23 million in new funding for the effort last December.
“This is the first time they are extending their hours in a decade. People need to find services that fit into their lives — it doesn’t necessarily mean 9-5 on weekdays,” Warren said. “It really expands the opportunity to get people linked into the care they need.”
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, an assistant commissioner at the health department, said he thinks the city will hit its target of 600 infections by 2020. The greatest success has been in lowering the infection rate in New Yorkers who inject drugs.
The introduction of PrEP, a medication that helps prevent contracting HIV, is expected to significantly lower the number of New Yorkers diagnosed with HIV each year.
“Over the last three years, new technology has emerged that allows us to offer these same people, who might not be able to adhere to condoms, the option of doing something else that would prevent HIV,” Daskalakis said.
Warren said the interest in PrEP helps bring in people into the health care system who may not have been insured and are at risk of HIV.
“HIV testing is really the gateway into which we can deliver treatment and prevention,” he said.
Greenwich Village counselor Mark Milano, 59, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1982, said while the virus is not a death sentence anymore due to new treatments available today, stigma and shame remain a major problem.
“The difference between 25 years ago is that people said I have HIV, and I’m going to die,” he said. “In the eighties and nineties, we were all kind of in this together, and now it’s divided into two camps. The gay men I speak with are terrified of getting HIV because of the stigma. It’s not about life span.”