TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — This year marks 40 years since the first HIV diagnosis. In those 40 years, Florida has climbed to the 3rd highest rate of transmission. But the state's top doctor, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo is announcing new goals to bring that number down.
"In terms of testing, one of the areas that we'll be working on is expanding use and access to testing," Dr. Ladapo said.
Making an appearance at the Leon County Department of Health World AIDS Day event alongside Lt. Governor Jeanette Núñez, Dr. Ladapo says the primary focus is on communities with the highest rate of transmission.
In Leon County, that's the 32301, 32303 and 32304 ZIP codes. Those are the areas our local health department is laser-focused on protecting. Robert Wilson is a Leon County Department of Health Early Intervention Consultant. He says Wednesday's event was all about dispelling misinformation.
"It's important because by talking about it, we're actually bringing down the stigma. I always say if we don't get a hold of the stigma, we'll never end the epidemic," said Wilson.
By the end of 2020, Leon County identified 1,357 people living with HIV. Many more are unaware they have the virus. That's why Wilson helped organize a World AIDS Day event to spread awareness about the virus and measures to protect, prevent, and control it.
"It's a chance for the community to unite together and establish a chance to end this epidemic once and for all," said Wilson.
Part of that Community is MAACA: the Minority Alliance for Advocating Community Awareness and Action. A key goal is entering more black communities to spread awareness. In Leon County, 68.5% of the people diagnosed with HIV last year were black.
Alyssa Crawford is an Outreach Advisor who says she's happy to be a part of the team doing important work.
"A major part where we step in is to provide the education, and the awareness to make people more comfortable seeking treatment, help, services in general," she said.
Crawford was born with HIV and officially diagnosed at birth. She says her role is to show that HIV-positive people come in all forms — and there's nothing like having someone to talk with.
"Being a perinatal positive, someone born HIV positive, I really want to step out and be who I am because I wish I had someone like me at that time. When I was younger, I only had older people or men. People I didn't identify with," she said.
Now her mission is to show the life that's capable after an HIV-positive diagnosis. The biggest issue, dispelling misinformation. Wilson says his goal is to show just how far science has come in the last 40 years.
"I tell people all the time it's not 1990 anymore. Today we know more. We have medications that better treat and keep the virus under control. We have medicines to prevent HIV infections. It's not a death sentence and I remind people of that," he said.
The Department of Health is one place you can go to get an HIV test. There are also at-home testing kits available at most health care facilities. Health experts recommend getting tested yearly.