State targets seven counties to combat HIV

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More than $490,000 is being doled out to seven Florida counties as part of a national effort to try to eradicate HIV and AIDS in the next 10 years.

The funding is made possible as part of the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which was announced by the Trump administration this year. Money became available for counties to spend Oct. 1.

“For this plan to succeed, we want to engage the help of every Floridian,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, flanked by Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees and others, said during an announcement Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Nunez outlined Florida’s four-step plan that includes routine testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases and access to pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent the spread of HIV.  

The pre-exposure medicine must be taken daily and is effective for people who are at high risk of exposure to HIV. The post-exposure medicine is to reduce the risk of HIV infection in physicians and other medical professionals. 

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV, which weakens people’s immune systems. HIV is most commonly transmitted through sex or through syringes.

The rate of HIV diagnosis in Florida in 2017 was 22.9 per 100,000 people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That put Florida behind the District of Columbia and Georgia, which had diagnosis rates of 46.3 and 24.9 per 100,000, respectively.

The new grant funding announcement was made on National Latino HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Event. Nunez said there has been an “incredible increase” in the spread of HIV in the Latino community, noting that Latinos accounted for 34 percent of the new HIV diagnoses in Florida  in 2018.

She encouraged Latinos to know their HIV status, which she said helps reduce the spread of the virus and, if the disease is treated early, lowers mortality rates.

Beyond that, though, Nunez said there needs to be more compassion.

“Treat HIV like other chronic illnesses to help reduce the stigma and shame and the discrimination in the Hispanic and Latino community,” she said.

During his State of the Union address in March, President Donald Trump announced his goal to end the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. 

The following month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a multi-phase approach to eradicating the disease. Phase one is to diagnose all people with HIV as early as possible.

Phase one includes funding for the 48 counties and seven rural states with the highest HIV incidence. The seven Florida counties are Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

The funding Nunez announced Tuesday all came from federal grant dollars; there are no additional state dollars being targeted at the county health departments as part of the plan.

Nunez gave assurances that state would avail itself of all funding coming its way. The Guardian reported last month that former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration returned $54 million in federal grant funding meant to combat the spread of HIV in the state. Scott became a U.S. senator in January and was replaced by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Joining Nunez at Tuesday’s announcement were Rivkees and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention medical epidemiologist John Brooks, along with directors of some of the county health departments receiving the funds.

“We owe it to those who are no longer with us, and the thousands of people who are fighting every day, to put an end to this disease,” Rivkees said of using the grant dollars.

© 2019 The News Service of Florida.