AIDS research has come a long way since the disease was first reported in the United States in June 1981, but one local group says they are still working to break the stigma that still surrounds it.
BASIC NWFL, Inc. is a volunteer-based non-profit organization that serves Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, and Washington counties, with a mission to assist those living with HIV and AIDS, as well as provide advocacy, education, and prevention resources to the public.
“There is still a lot of stigma surrounding this disease,” says BASIC Prevention Specialist Angie Roberts. “Not only can it impact people from all walks of life, we now know that thanks to research and medical advancements, a diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it used to be.”
Dr. Gottgrief Hirnschall, Director of the World Health Organization’s HIV department, agrees.
“With no effective treatment available in the 1980s, there was little hope for those diagnosed with HIV,” said Hirnschall. “[Those diagnosed] faced debilitating illness and certain death with years.” Hirnschall has stated that in addition to advancement in treatments, being proactive with education and testing remain key factors in a lower morbidity rate from HIV/AIDS.
Roberts says access to testing is confidential and easier than ever.
“I am happy to meet you and do the test discreetly and in the privacy of your home,” she said. “You can know your status in about 15 minutes.”
Roberts can be reached confidentially by text or by calling 850-867-0440 or by calling 850-785-1088, ext. 133.
HIV testing is also provided at all county health departments, and a home kit can be mail to the address of your choice by visiting knowyourHIVstatus.com.
The Florida Department of Health stresses that for those who test positive, earlier diagnosis leads to more successful treatment. 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.
For those who test negative, there are more prevention options than ever before. A health care provider can do a risk/needs assessment to determine appropriate next steps, which might include taking PrEP and using condoms to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV.
The CDC estimates that more than 1.1 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV/AIDS. In 2018, there were 119,661 people living with HIV in Florida. More than half of the 4,906 new diagnoses were for people between the ages of 20-39.
Here at home, the Florida Department of Health reports there are about 161 persons living with the disease in Washington County and about 28 in Holmes County.
BASIC is partnering with St. Andrews Episcopal Church at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 1, to host the World AIDS Day Vigil in an effort to raise awareness and remember those lost to the disease. The church is located at 1608 Baker Court in Panama City.