BY PENNY DICKERSON
The Florida Department of Health in Volusia County will recognize the 20th annual observance of National HIV Testing Day by offering free HIV testing on June 26 — one day earlier than the annual kick off.
Themed “Take the Test, Take the Control,” the campaign encourages people of all ages to learn their HIV status by taking the test and taking control of their lives.
In 2014, there were about 1,485 people in Volusia County living with HIV/AIDS, so early diagnosis is critical so those affected can fully benefit from available life-saving treatments.
National HIV Testing Day is June 27 and promotes timely screening and education as crucial elements that can help stop the spread of HIV. Knowing your status—as well as the status of your partner—is one of the most important steps in preventing HIV.
Daytona Beach testing will take place at the Volusia County Health Department, 1854 Holsonback Drive, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Daytona Beach residents who have refrained from being tested due to an associative fear can be assured the Volusia County Health Department’s screening process is virtually pain free.
“We have three types of tests including saliva, blood draw and a Clearview rapid test. We will offer the rapid test first,” stated Patrick Forand, HIV AIDS Program Coordinator for the local health department. “The saliva [test] is just a scraping of the cheek with a small plastic collection loop, the blood draw is with a needle and the rapid test is performed like a blood glucose test with a small prick of a finger for a drop of blood.”
Any resident 13 years or older is eligible to receive the rapid test without parental consent; however, minors 12 and younger will be tested by blood draw and must be accompanied by a legal, adult guardian.
To maintain confidentiality, all results are given face-to-face with a timeliness consistent with health department standards.
“If the test is a blood draw or cheek swab we will have the results back in a week or two. If the test is a rapid, we will have a preliminary result and will need to confirm the results with a blood draw,” offered Forhand. “If a person comes back as reactive to the rapid test, we will provide counseling and refer the person to the linkage coordinator and a case manager.”
While free testing is an excellent resource to curve statistical gaps, the CDC stresses, “If you have HIV, getting medical care and taking medicines regularly helps you live a longer, healthier life and also lowers the chances of passing HIV on to others.”
Volusia County organizations like F.A.I.T.H. (Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony) have served as successful community agents of change. The faith-based, grassroots organization led efforts to convince Halifax Hospital to open new facilities where the uninsured or underinsured can gain greater access to primary health care.
Free testing on National HIV Testing Day is a community endeavor that weighs the economic challenges of the public against the invaluable benefits of being tested. To encourage responsible behaviors and education in Daytona Beach, the Volusia County Health Department offers free condoms and informational brochures year-around.
Florida ranks high
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Florida continues to rank third in the nation in the cumulative number of AIDS cases (126,581 in 2012) and second in the nation in the cumulative number of HIV cases (49,058 in 2012).
The state of Florida’s statistical rank represents both a statewide health crisis and a daunting fraction with respect to national averages that report more than 1.2 million people in the United States who are living with HIV infection. Almost one in seven (14 percent) are unaware of their infection.
The Florida Department of Health further estimates that approximately 130,000 individuals are living with HIV disease in Florida. While there is currently no cure, HIV/AIDS is 100 preventable preventable. Getting tested is the first step to finding out if you have HIV.
Communities take charge
Florida communities are ethnically diverse and from the peninsula’s most southern Miami-Dade county to the East Central Shores of Daytona Beach, individuals from the Caribbean Islands, Europe, and Africa are faced with pervasive poverty, poor schools, and inadequate social services, housing and job opportunities.
The aforementioned combine directly affects health including risk for sexually transmitted disease.
The African-American community has remained severely at risk since 2005 when the Florida Department of Health reported that 15 Floridians become infected with HIV every day.
The progressive organization “We Make The Change” are among community leaders taking charge to ensure those Florida populations most threatened by the epidemic have the appropriate resources and education to prevent transmission of the disease.
Funded by the Florida Department of Health, the statewide initiative advances the philosophy, “Together, we can become a powerful threat against the AIDS epidemic by turning our knowledge of HIV into action – and this action starts with each of us.”