Local groups fight HIV stigma, look to encourage more testing

By  | 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -- Fighting stigmatization that has lasted for years in the discussion of HIV/AIDS was the topic of a training held Monday evening at the Bartley Temple United Methodist Church in Gainesville.

Mardrequs Harris from the Southern AIDS Coalition speaks to members of varying groups united in the fight against the stigmatization of H.I.V.

More than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Out of that 1.1 million, one in seven do not know they are infected.

"It's very important to have these discussions, even today," said Mardrequs Harris from the Southern AIDS Coalition.

In 2017, Florida had the second highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control, or CDC.

With rates in the southern United States remaining stagnant, or in some areas increasing, the stigmas surrounding HIV also remain persistent.

"We're still dealing with some of those same issues back in the day. There's a lack of education, there's a lack of knowledge," Harris said. "And then some people don't even think this exists anymore. And just keeping this at the forefront, talking about it."

But what are those stigmas? Teresa Mercado with Black AIDS Services and Education, Inc. has fought against them for years.

"There are still a lot of people that think that it's transmitted a certain way, or you have to be living a certain way to get it," Mercado said. "People still think you can get it from touching, and kissing, and hugging."

Through B.A.S.E., Mercado is beginning to offer at-home testing for HIV for people who may not feel comfortable or may not be able to access a clinic.

"The focus for me is for people to get tested so that they know their status, because that's the main way that we can slow this epidemic down," she said.

Some of the organizations involved in Monday night's training, like WellFlorida, Health P.L.U.S., the Rural Women's Health Project and Let's Talk About It, are teaming up to offer free health screenings at the following times and locations:

- Wednesday, June 26 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Bartley Temple United Methodist Church in Gainesville.
- Thursday, June 27 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Gainesville.

If you are interested in learning more about B.A.S.E. and at-home testing, the group can be reached at (352) 231-6383.

The following locations offer H.I.V. testing in Gainesville:

- University of Florida College of Medicine Equal Access Clinic, varying locations, (352) 273-8614 (FREE)
- Planned Parenthood of South East and North Florida Inc., 914 N.W. 13th St. Gainesville, FL 32601, (352) 377-0881
- University of Florida Department of Epidemiology HealthStreet, 2401 S.W. Archer Rd. Gainesville, FL, (352) 294-4880 (FREE)

The following locations offer H.I.V. testing in Ocala:

- Ocala Infectious Disease and Wound Center, 2651 S.W. 32nd Pl. Ocala, FL, (352) 401-7552
- Florida Department of Health, 1801 S.E. 32nd Ave. Ocala, FL, (352) 629-0137 (FREE)

The following locations offer H.I.V. testing in Dixie County:

- North Florida Medical Centers Inc. Family Medical Center, 412 S.W. Hwy. 351 Cross City, FL, (352) 498-3349
- Florida Department of Health, 149 N.E. 241st St. Cross City, FL, (352) 498-1360

The following locations offer H.I.V. testing in Gilchrist County:

- Florida Department of Health, 119 N.E. 1st St. Trenton, FL, (352) 463-3120 (FREE)
- Palms Medical Group Trenton Health Center, 911 S. Main St. Trenton, FL, (352) 463-2374

The following locations offer H.I.V. testing in Levy County:

- Florida Department of Health, 66 W. Main St. Bronson, FL, (352) 486-5300 (FREE)

The following locations offer H.I.V. testing in Putnam County:

- Azalea Health (Palatka & Hastings), 1302 River St. Palatka, FL, (386) 328-8371
- Florida Department of Health, 2801 Kennedy St. Palatka, FL, (386) 326-3200 (FREE)