By Shane Bailey, MBA/HCM, MPharm, Director of Community Initiatives, WellFlorida Council Inc.
Florida ranks third in the nation for the number of people living with HIV. Of the 101,456 persons with HIV, 49 percent are African American. Although these numbers are discouraging, it is important to know that HIV cases in Florida have decreased significantly among all races and ethnicities over the last 10 years, but there is much we can do, individually and as a community, to prevent the disease from spreading.
HIV is spread primarily by unprotected sexual contact and sharing needles or syringes with a person who has HIV. Women who have HIV can give the disease to their babies before or during birth or through breastfeeding after birth. There is no cure for HIV, but with proper medical care, the virus can be controlled. AIDS is the final stage of the HIV infection.
Among African Americans in the U.S., heterosexual contact with an HIV infected person accounted for an estimated 87 percent of new infections for females. For males, male-to-male sexual contact accounted for an estimated 72 percent of new HIV infections. African American men who have sex with men, ages 13–24, are the racial/ethnic subgroup with the highest incidence of HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.
These statistics demonstrate the need for HIV prevention strategies that include abstinence, monogamy, condom use and testing. According to the CDC, nearly one in five persons with HIV doesn’t know he or she is infected, and can pass the virus on to others unknowingly.
Studies have shown that when people find out they have HIV, they are more likely to take steps to protect their health and that of their partners. Getting an HIV test, knowing your HIV status and encouraging your friends, family and community to do the same are important steps in preventing the spread of HIV.
There are many clinics and testing locations in North Central Florida that offer free, fast and confidential testing. Recently, the WellFlorida Council Inc. initiated an HIV prevention project to stop the spread of HIV and link HIV-infected individuals to prevention and care services. WellFlorida is the state designated local health council for North Central Florida that specializes in health consultancy for clients and projects throughout the state. For more information, visit www.www.wellflorida.org.
The HIV prevention project’s website at www.EveryoneStopAIDSNow.org lists free HIV testing events and locations. The site also directs individuals who have recently been diagnosed with HIV or who have HIV, but have not received medical care in six months to ARTAS (Anti-Retroviral Treatment and Access to Services), which links people to the care and resources they need.
In addition, WellFlorida offers free HIV testing Monday through Friday by appointment only. WellFlorida is located at 1785 NW 80th Blvd. in Gainesville. For more information, call 352-313-6500 ext. 120.
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