Increased HIV Prevention, Education Efforts Needed in South Florida, Officials Say
Officials in Martin and Indian River counties in Florida are calling for increased HIV/AIDS prevention and education efforts in an attempt to encourage testing and curb the spread of the virus, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Karen Thomas, an epidemiologist at the Martin County Health Department, said that the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS could be keeping people from seeking information and being tested. "We want to know why it is that we're not being asked," she said, adding that officials are at a "fact-finding sort of stage" and "want to be out there to make sure the numbers are reflective of what's actually happening."
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Martin and Indian River counties each have reported slightly more than 100 HIV cases since 1997, but health officials say that the number of actual cases could be much higher. Statistics indicate that more than half of all HIV cases on the Treasure Coast since 1997 are transmitted through heterosexual contact. Reports of HIV/AIDS cases in Martin County show an almost even division among white, black and Hispanic populations -- a contrast with the state, regional and national trend that shows minority populations are disproportionately affected by the virus -- the Sun-Sentinel reports. Thomas said the department is working to focus prevention efforts on the migrant community in Martin County, where people often believe that if they are not showing symptoms that they do not have HIV. Regional HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator Dawn Jones said she has supported efforts by the Indian River County Health Department to establish a community outreach coalition for HIV prevention.
A lack of government funding and community-based organizations also has hindered prevention and education efforts in the two counties, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Project Response provides no-cost HIV tests in neighboring St. Lucie County -- which has recorded three times the number of HIV cases as Indian and Martin counties combined -- through a state grant, while Martin County charges $35 for an HIV test. Kay Baker -- case manager for Project Response -- said people will go for HIV tests if they do not have the money, adding that they are "just going to hope they're not positive. That's dangerous. What we need most is education" (Copsey, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 10/27).