Despite all of the education and awareness efforts, many people shun getting tested for HIV.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
World AIDS Day was on Dec. 1 and local health care organizations used the day to honor victims of the disease as well as educate residents about the importance of getting tested.
Outreach Community Care Network in Daytona Beach held its World AIDS Day event at its site at 240 N. Frederick Ave., teaming up with the Florida Health Department Volusia County, Black Nurses Association, Black Nurses Rock, Walgreens. Chipotle and Bethune-Grill donated food for the event.
“We had a great turnout this year, which was our second year having an event. The event was festive and fun. We also got to share information about the disease and treatment,” said Tamika Crumiell, prevention specialist for Outreach Community Care Network.
Just 10 tests
Despite the festive atmosphere, just about 10 people took free HIV tests that day, she related.
“We are seeing an increase in numbers with African-Americans. People just are not getting tested. People are afraid to know their status for some reason. That is what we’re fighting for,” Crumiell said.
“Those negative need to continue to make sure they don’t contract the disease. Those who are positive need to know and get treatment where they can live and not spread the disease.”
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church also held a service in observance of World AIDS Day, where the Rev. Donna Choate was the keynote speaker.
The service was multi-faith, multi-denomination and multi-racial.
“It was well-attended with over 100 people. It was all about showing compassion, understanding, love and hope for those infected by HIV/AIDS and those who have lost their lives to it. We also prayed over and prayed for those infected with HIV/AIDS,” said Father Phil Egitto.
Stats on cases
The latest statistics show that in Volusia County new AIDS cases rose from 6.7 percent in 2015 to 8.7 percent in 2016 per 100,000 people.
In Florida, during the same period, there was a drop from 10.7 percent to 10.5 percent.
New HIV infection cases rose in Volusia County from 12.8 percent in 2015 to 15.4 percent in 2016. In Florida, they increased from 23.7 percent in 2015 to 24.7 percent in 2016..
HIV/AIDS adjusted death rose slightly from 4 percent to 4.2 percent in Volusia from 2015 to 2016 while it remained at 3.9 percent in Florida during that span.
Increase for Blacks
Diagnosed AIDS cases have risen among Blacks (32 percent to 33.3 percent), Whites (2.7 percent to 4.6 percent) and Hispanics (4.8 percent to 9.5 percent in Volusia County from 2015 to 2016.
People living with AIDS have high rates in the 32114 and 32124 area codes, which are high in Daytona’s Black community and the highest in the county.
“The rise that we’re seeing in African-Americans isn’t just here in Volusia County. It’s happening nationally. In 2015-16, we actually saw a decrease in cases amongst African-Americans,” said Ethan Johnson, statistician with the Volusia health department.
Of the people living with AIDS in Volusia County as of 2016, 38 percent were Black, 46 percent White and 14 percent Hispanic.
Many factors contribute to the rise in cases over the past year, but it could be tied to the stigma that still exists when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
“There is always a stigma attached to it, mainly because people don’t understand it. You can be treated and live with it now. There was a time in the 1980s when a lot of people were dying from it. That is still perceived in the back of some people’s minds. That is what they perceive when they hear HIV/AIDS,’’ Johnson explained.
Health officials say the key is getting everyone tested.
“Getting tested and knowing your status is the key. Then you’ll know how to move on and then we can start prevention. If you know your status early on, it’s better. Getting treatment is so important. The earlier you get treatment the better off is your life longevity,” expressed Joseph Heynh, clinical director of Outreach Community Care Network.
Outreach Community Care Network conducts HIV/AIDS testing Monday through Friday.
‘One pill per day’
The Florida Health Department Volusia County is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
“You won’t be turned away if you walked in to be tested for HIV/AIDS,” noted Johnson.
Having HIV/AIDS isn’t the death sentence that it was about 30 years ago.
Crumiell explained, “There are now different types of medications and preparations to keep people healthy and alive. We have medications that block the virus from passing on to another individual.
“It used to be where an infected person took up to 11 pills a day. Now most people take just one pill per day. It’s all about maintenance and getting your medication and preventing the spread.’’
Once a year
Health organizations are stepping up efforts to educate people, provide free testing, awareness and more.
“We’re being more active in the community by teaming up with different organizations as well as the schools in the community by doing more events, offering free testing, awareness and just getting people to talk and have conversations with family friends, co-workers and so forth. Anyone sexually active should be getting tested at least once a year,” Crumiell added.