By Joy Oglesby
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 38,000 new cases of HIV and AIDS each year in the United States, and South Florida regularly ranks among the highest rates of new HIV and AIDS cases. The CDC also estimates there are about 154,000 people living with HIV and AIDS who don’t know they have it. Additionally, approximately 37% of patients who do know they have HIV or AIDS aren’t getting adequate treatment to control it.
To address this alarming trend, Broward Health remains committed to creating greater access to care for those who may be at risk for HIV and AIDS. This often includes caregivers going out into the community to reach those in need. At this year’s Light Up Sistrunk event hosted by the City of Fort Lauderdale, Broward Comprehensive Care Center caregivers administered more than 50 HIV tests.
“It was a positive experience for the community and our team,” said Claudette Grant, director of clinical services at Broward Health’s Comprehensive Care Center. “It’s important that people know their HIV status, and if it’s determined that a person has HIV, we can then provide the care that allows them to live a good quality life.”
The Comprehensive Care Center offers free HIV testing every day during operating hours, as well as counseling before and after HIV testing. The counseling provided by Broward Health caregivers is essential because knowing your HIV status is only the first step in managing the disease and preventing its spread.
If someone tests negative but continues to be at high risk, the Comprehensive Care Center can prescribe Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. This medication is to be taken daily and can lower the chances of getting HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV if it is used as prescribed.
For the more than 1,200 patients the Center treats each year, access to primary care is critical, yet lingering stigmas associated with HIV and AIDS may be influencing individuals from receiving care. Even approaching the year 2020, Broward Health caregivers must still inform people that HIV and AIDS can’t be contracted by sharing eating utensils or hugging.
Maria Roscoe, RN, charge nurse at the Comprehensive Care Center, saw stigma influence her patient, “Tim Jones.” (The Westside Gazette is not using the patient’s real name because the he has not disclosed his status to his family.)
Jones recalls his first appointment with Roscoe in November 2014. “She was the first person to draw my blood,” he said. “I told her that I don’t like needles. I struggle every time I have to get a vaccine or get blood drawn, but she puts you at ease. She’s personable. The woman is a godsend.”
In response, Roscoe said, “People living with HIV and AIDS deserve to be loved and treated just like anyone else.”
That was the first of many visits Jones will have to make over the course of his lifetime. Keeping HIV and AIDS in check is a lifetime commitment that can get grueling — regular visits to the doctors, counseling sessions, daily medications, avoiding people with a cold and managing who knows your status. But for the past year, Jones has kept up with his medical treatment and counseling, in part because of the genuine care and concern from his medical team at Broward Health.
“Our goal is to do our part to end the HIV epidemic,” said Grant. “We aim to identify people who are HIV positive and don’t know their status, those who know their status but are not in care, and those who have fallen out of care to bring them into care and prevent the transmission of HIV.”
If you’d like to be tested for HIV/AIDS, visit the Broward Health Comprehensive Care Center, or you can find a physician at BrowardHealth.org/Find-Doctor.