This press release published at the request of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County.
February 7, 2021, commemorates National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). NBHAAD aims to increase HIV education, testing, community involvement, and treatment among black communities. This year’s theme, “We’re in This Together,” highlights the importance of social support in eliminating stigma and reducing new HIV diagnoses among individuals that make up the black community. Even while many of us are physically distanced, we all have an important and distinct role to play in ending HIV. The Florida Department of Health (FDOH) in Alachua County joins community partners across the country to improve access to testing, overcome barriers for linkage to and retention in care, increase access to PrEP, and reduce new HIV infections and HIV-related disparities.
In 2019, 116,689 Floridians were confirmed to be living with HIV.
Approximately 1,050 people in Alachua County were living with HIV in 2019, and of those, about 62% belong to the African American community. In order to end the HIV epidemic, we must work together to address these racial disparities. One way that the FDOH aims to address this is with the Peer Program.
“We have a diverse peer program here at the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County. You are not alone in your diagnosis. Our peers and other staff are here to offer comfort and support.” said Gay Koehler-Sides, HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator, Florida Department of Health, Alachua County.
Did you know that there’s more than one type of HIV test? Most use either a blood sample or fluid swabbed from the inside of your cheek. There are different settings in which you can take an HIV test, too, including in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Visit KnowYourHIVStatus.com
to learn more about testing options in your area or to order a free at-home HIV testing kit mailed directly to the address of your choice (while supplies last).
Knowing your HIV status is just the beginning.
It’s crucial that people living with HIV begin treatment as soon as possible. Immediate treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) typically leads to long, healthy lives for people living with HIV. It’s also a method of HIV prevention. ART reduces the amount of HIV in the body, which makes it harder to transmit to others. People living with HIV who reach and maintain what’s called “viral suppression” (fewer than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood) have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner.
There are also prevention tools for people who haven’t been diagnosed with HIV. While HIV prevention is truly a group effort, it can look very different from person to person. A health care provider can do a risk/needs assessment to determine appropriate next steps, which might include taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and using condoms to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Prevention may also take the form of regular retesting.
Protect yourself. Get tested. Know your status. Learn what’s next.
For more information about the FDOH Peer Program, call 352-334-7969.