Thirty years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we have much to be proud of:
---The United States has its first National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which is focusing efforts where they can make the most impact on the disease’s progression.---The International AIDS Conference will be on U.S. soil for the first time in more than 20 years, bringing together the greatest minds in HIV/AIDS advocacy, treatment and science.---Promising scientific breakthroughs are making treatments more effective and transforming the way we think about prevention.
Yet much work remains to be done. At the end of 2008, an estimated 1,178,350 persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV in the United States. In Washington, DC, alone, there are more than 16,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, yet one in five don’t know that they have it. African Americans are particularly hard hit, making up 76 percent of infections in the District of Columbia.
While it’s important to acknowledge the successes, communities are in dire need of help. ROAD to AIDS 2012 is a nationwide series of town hall meetings engaging communities in discussions about how their local regions are handling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. One thing that has become clear from the town halls is that no matter what part of the country you live in, community outreach is the cornerstone of managing the epidemic, particularly when it comes to prevention, testing and linkage to care. Community Education Group (CEG) seeks to stop the spread of HIV and eliminate health disparities in neighborhoods by training ex-offenders and community health workers to educate, counsel and test the hard to reach population.
One way CEG expands its reach is by forging relationships with other organizations and local businesses. For example, from October 1, 2010 through September 31, 2011, CEG staff disseminated prevention materials through participants in our community network of over 225 businesses in Wards 6, 7, and 8 in Washington, DC. CEG also passed out 226,115 condoms through 1,206 visits to over 225 sites within our community network. The total amount of prevention materials distributed through all outreach activities during that time was 27,810 risk reduction kits and 309,547 condoms.
While prevention is key to ending the epidemic, it is just as crucial that Americans know their status. Twenty percent of Americans are unaware that they are living with HIV. Between October 1, 2010 and September 31, 2011, CEG staff provided counseling and testing for 10,480 individuals in Washington, DC’s Wards 6, 7, and 8. Of these individuals, 175 -- or 1.8 percent -- of individuals received a preliminary positive diagnosis.
Navigating the healthcare system when one is newly diagnosed with HIV can be confusing, scary and frustrating. In fact, many people diagnosed with HIV fall out of care or never seek care in the first place because they are afraid to disclose their status or they don’t know who to speak with about treatment options. CEG does not leave those who are newly diagnosed to figure out their futures alone. Providing linkages to care is a core component of what we do. From October 2010 through September 2011, CEG Referral and Linkage Staff provided new linkages to care for 52 clients who were diagnosed through testing by CEG staff to care services provided by Family and Medical Counseling Services. CEG Referral and Linkage staff also linked, relinked or confirmed that 165 out of 175 preliminary positive diagnosed individuals were receiving care and treatment services. CEG is currently developing wireless technology using tablet computers and Smartphone process for client enrollment into public health insurance, patient navigation and patient treatment adherence
CEG outreach staff also delivers thousands of referrals to support services, linking clients to confirmatory testing centers, mental health resources, substance abuse treatment centers, food services, housing services, employment programs, Hepatitis C screening and primary care.
There’s no doubt this is an exciting time in the fight against HIV/AIDS. While we continue to move toward an AIDS-free generation, CEG’s goal remains the same: To end health disparities, stop the spread of HIV, and give people living with HIV/AIDS the tools they need to live a healthy and prosperous life.
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A. Toni Young. Executive Director, Community Education Group. She has sought to expand the organization’s efforts to better address the challenges facing her South East DC community.