June 8 is National Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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The purpose of the annual observance is to educate Caribbean-Americans about HIV/AIDS and provide resources for HIV testing and treatment.

Because of the large number of Caribbean-Americans living in South Florida, this day is of particular importance to people in our area. According to a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Florida is home to approximately 40 percent of the total Caribbean-born population in the U.S.

The Caribbean has been more heavily affected by HIV than any region outside sub-Saharan Africa and has the second highest level of adult HIV prevalence.

Compared to other populations in Florida, Caribbean immigrants are more likely to be screened later for HIV, resulting in delayed diagnosis. According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the disease is the leading cause of death among men and women aged 20-59 in the Caribbean.

“National Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day transcends a day of observance,” said Lorenzo Lowe, Director of HIV Prevention at Compass, the LGBT center in Lake Worth. “This day has expanded to a deliberate and conscious effort to reduce the number of infections among this community.  With a large West-Indian population here in South Florida, we have learned in our efforts to bring awareness to this disease that our approach must also align with the history and culture of this great community.”

Reduction in HIV in Caribbean-Americans is possible if a larger proportion of people with HIV engaged and retained in care. People living with HIV who are in routine care and achieve undetectable viral loads minimize the chances of transmitting the virus to others who do not have it. But one out of every six people who have the virus don’t know they have it, and they are the most likely to give HIV to others. It’s proven that once people learn they have the virus, they become much more likely to take precautions to prevent the spread of HIV, such as using condoms and taking medications.

Unfortunately, this is not happening enough.

“Much like other minority communities, we are seeing an increase in new infections,” Lowe said. “So we continue to modify our approach to the process of educating, testing, and treating Caribbean-Americans.  Understanding the beliefs, culture, and environment allowed us to identify the barriers regarding access to care.  This was a game changer. Now it's a matter of slowly incorporating new processes into everyday life. We hope this model will ensure that the education is then passed to new generations.”

Visit the CDC website to find your nearest place to get tested every day of the year. Many places offer free testing including the Pride Center in Wilton Manors, Compass in Lake Worth, and at AIDS Healthcare locations throughout South Florida.


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