Preventing HIV in Florida is a cause that takes time and money. How much money? Almost half a million dollars, the U.S. says.
Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez announced earlier this month that $490,000 in federal funding will go toward seven Florida counties, including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.
That money, from President Trump’s Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, will go toward “planning and restructuring” the way South Florida can access prevention services, according to HIV Prevention and Education Director Lorenzo Lowe of Compass the LGBT center of the Palm Beaches.
“For me, I think this is really exciting,” Lowe said. “This is a moment in which we have this fire that has been ignited and there’s this interest that is being created and we have the ball rolling and we’re getting a lot of attention. It’s important for South Florida — it truly is.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, there were 4,906 new HIV diagnoses in 2018.
“HIV is not a partisan issue, but a very problematic health concern that affects our communities greatly,” said Nuñez in a statement earlier this year. “With assistance from our federal partners at [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], we are confident that the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative will reduce HIV transmission in our state … We must collectively continue to promote advocacy, research and progress to pave the way for a healthier Florida.”
Lowe said Compass and other prevention service providers in South Florida are still developing a plan detailing how to spend the money. He estimates that South Florida communities will start benefiting from the funding early next year. However, he added that some of the likely additional resources that will come out of it are PrEP, condom distribution and other treatment programs.
Nunez also talked about the Florida Department of Health’s four-step initiative to eliminate HIV. The plan’s key components include:
- Frequent HIV and STI testing in healthcare settings
- Rapid access to medication and case management
- Improving access to PrEP and nPEP
- Increase community awareness
The other four Florida counties part of the funding are Orange, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas.
On a federal level, the goal of the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative is to “reduce the number of number of new HIV infections in the United States by 75 percent within five years, and then by at least 90 percent within 10 years, for an estimated 250,000 total HIV infections averted,” according to HIV.gov.
One of Lowe’s goals is to raise awareness of some of the overlooked barriers that hinder people with HIV from receiving the care they need. Some of those changes should be fixing and removing some of those barriers like transportation, mental health and homelessness, Lowe argued.
“We have to change the statistics. The statistics are drastic for our community. So we have to figure out what's working because the way that we have been doing it isn't working anymore,” Lowe said. “And the numbers and the data is showing that we have had some progress, but we definitely need to change and implement new programs.”
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released last year that analyzed HIV diagnoses in 2016 showed that the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach region had the highest rates of diagnoses in the country. West Palm Beach had recorded 23 diagnoses for every 100,000 people.
Lowe said the $490,000 comes after Harold Phillips, chief executive officer of the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, visited Miami to discuss what the White House can do to make a difference in South Florida.
“We’re working on how to bridge gaps [between healthcare and the community] and there’s several different challenges,” Lowe said. “And it’s not an easy road, but this is actually … to help really identify some of the things we need to work on in our county.”