National HIV Testing Day is Saturday
By Giuseppe Sabella
Saturday is National HIV Testing Day and local organizations are offering free events to educate and evaluate residents in a time when Florida is the leader for new HIV infections.
In 2013, Florida faced almost 5,400 new cases of HIV and the number rose to just over 6,000 in 2014, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“We used to be second, however, we have made it up to No. 1 and this is not a No. 1 we want to be proud of,” said Naomi Ardjomand-Kermani, a WellFlorida HIV prevention specialist.
WellFlorida representatives will be at the Civic Media Center, at 433 S. Main St., from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday during ArtWalk Gainesville.
The event is part of an ongoing project to educate residents about the importance of knowing your health status, preventing an infection and receiving the proper care if HIV is detected.
WellFlorida’s High Impact Prevention program provides free HIV tests and condoms, along with services that connect people to care in 90 days or less after being diagnosed.
“We’re not just leaving people hanging once they find out they’re positive,” Ardjomand-Kermani said.
The organization partnered with 48 local businesses to offer the community with resources in 2014, and all current locations are listed on WellFlorida’s website.
Ardjomand-Kermani recommends that people get tested for HIV every year as part of their normal healthcare routine, or every 3 to 6 months if risky sexual behavior is involved.
She said Alachua County is lucky to have so many options available, because a lack of money or transportation often stands in the way of getting help.
Yunfai Ng, volunteer coordinator for the mobile outreach clinic, wants people to help themselves, along with the community, by overcoming fear or embarrassment and getting tested.
She believes that Alachua County needs a stronger sex education system, including material that caters to the literacy level of each area.
Javeen Thomas, program event coordinator with the mobile outreach clinic, said the Department of Health in Alachua County also has resources for support and treatment.
A doctor diagnosed Mark Tatro with HIV 28 years ago. Tatro is now involved with the health department’s PEER program, which helps members through the process of receiving and maintaining care.
The department’s website also lists resources that include support groups, hotlines and online chat rooms, along with treatment options.
Tatro said he counsels people who remind him of his HIV diagnosis every day. “I still remember it like it was yesterday because it’s a life-changing thing.”
He said people were afraid of HIV in the past because it was deadly and had the reputation of being a “gay disease.”
Now, people of all genders, races and lifestyles who take their medication and live a healthy lifestyle can lower their viral load, which means less damage to the immune system and a lower chance of spreading the virus.
“There’s no reason anybody who’s HIV positive should not seek out care because we know the treatment works, we know a lot more about the virus today than we did 30 years ago and we know how to manage it,” Tatro said.
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