The Florida Department of Health and the Chi Upsilon chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., hosted a free health fair Wednesday as part of National HIV Testing Day. The event, at DOH-Leon’s Orange Avenue location, was designed to bring awareness to the community.
The fair offered free and confidential HIV screenings. Along with free testing, there were games and music.
Chritsty Atkins, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., explained why her organization was eager to partner with the Florida DOH for this event. “It is important to bring awareness to take care of ourselves. It is especially crucial for minorities to have this information to pass to future generations.”
Claudia Blackburn, who heads the Leon County DOH-Florida offices, stressed the value of preventative medicine.
"One of the cornerstones of good public health practice is to identify and prevent the spread of disease in a community," she said. "Getting tested for HIV ensures that our community members know their status and get linked to care and treatment services if they are positive. It allows people with a negative status to get the information they need to prevent future infection.
“The more people who know their HIV status,” Blackburn added, “the better we can protect the health of individuals and the community at large.”
As part of routine health care, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals between the ages of 13-64 get tested for HIV at least once a year.
The CDC estimates 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Within that number about 162,500 people are unaware of their status.
According to the Florida Department of Health, more blacks in Florida are living with HIV or are already dead from AIDS than any other racial or ethnic group.
About 40 percent of new HIV infections are spread by people who are living with undiagnosed HIV. The first step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is testing.
Not only does seeking medical care and regularly taking medicine help you live a longer, healthier life, it also lowers the chances of transferring HIV to others.
The Florida DOH approved of a new drug for non-HIV patients named PrEP. PrEP is used to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected. Because PrEP is not 100 percent effective, this drug should be used alongside condoms or other protective measures.
Abraham Bonamy, a HIV/AIDS counselor at the Department of Health, encourages everyone to get routinely tested every six months. “It is very important for anybody to get tested” he added. “Say your test comes back positive; the quicker that we can get you into care, the more inherent your body will be to your medication. You can live 30 years plus if you catch it in the early stage., “The sooner, the better,” he added.
Visit www.KnowYourHIVStatus.com or test “FLHIV” to 898211 to locate HIV counseling, testing and referral sites.