World AIDS Day: According to statistics, South Florida is more than 3 times the national average in reporting new cases of HIV.
When the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention released its report on the rate of new HIV cases in 2015 in the United States, the rate was on average, 12.3 cases per 100,000 people. However, the average rate for newly diagnosed cases of HIV in South Florida was 38.8 per 100,000 people.
While the virus is no longer consider a “death sentence”, it does attack the body’s immune system, and without proper care and treatment with medications such as antiretroviral drugs, it can lead to death.
Discovering why the rate of new diagnoses is profoundly higher in South Florida, may not have a crystal clear answer. Experts believe there are several contributors as to why Miami-Dade county, which leads in numbers, may be seeing the spike in HIV and other STD’s.
In the 1980’s, when the world was learning of the virus, it sent shock-waves through at-risk communities. HIV/AIDS was viewed as a terminal illness, so individuals were willing to make changes and take preventive measures in order to avoid contraction.
Some medical professionals who have worked for decades in the treatment of HIV and AIDS feel that the advancements in medications to control the virus may have contributed to a more relaxed attitude toward the virus and the decline in prevention measures.
One health official said that younger people view HIV as “a treatable disease.”
The greatest number of new HIV cases were in men ages 20-49, according to the data from the CDC. Miami-Dade County’s diagnosis rate was 51.2 per 100,000 people in 2015, more than 4 times the national average.
Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip said the health department adopted a strategy that includes routine screening for HIV, increased testing for high-risk groups, prevention education and the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP drugs, to help reduce the infectious spread of the virus.
“So far, we have seen promising results from these pilot projects in South Florida,” Philip stated. “And we have plans to expand them to other parts of the state to continue to meet the needs of this community.”
Palm Beach County, which has higher than average numbers, plans to push for an expansion of a clean-needle exchange program started in Miami and run by the University of Miami.
South Florida counties have seen a dramatic rise in opioid and heroin addiction, which includes a spike in shared needle use. Officials believe the intravenous drug use could further spread the HIV virus.
World AIDS Day serves as a reminder that South Florida must continue to take measures to prevent the rise in new cases and seek advancements in the treatment of existing ones.