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Blacks still represent 60% of new HIV cases in Escambia County

 FDOH-Escambia staff with community partners at the NBHAAD event on February 6, 2021.
FDOH-Escambia staff with community partners at the NBHAAD event on February 6, 2021.

Monday marks National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The annual observance, held on February 7, started in 1999 as a way to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in communities of color.

The prevalence of HIV among African Americans in Escambia County makes it crucial for local health officials to participate.

“It’s very important; it give s us an opportunity to share the HIV prevention message, especially to African-Americans, where we see a disproportionate impact,” Maurice Moody with the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County. He serves as HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator for Area 1, which also includes Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“In Area 1, in 2020, there were 62 new cases of HIV. However, 57% of those cases were here in Escambia County.”

This means Escambia has the highest total number of HIV cases in the region. And, Moody says Escambia also has the highest percentage of cases among African-Americans.

“If you look at 2020, Blacks in Escambia County, for instance, accounted for 60% of the 40 new cases identified in 2020; and, that’s troubling,” Moody acknowledged. “However, the good news is that the four-year trend from 2016-2020, shows a 17.2% decrease in cases.”

Blacks in Okaloosa County accounted for 27.3% of the 11 new HIV cases identified in 2020, while FDOH data from that same year shows no Blacks tested positive for HIV in Santa Rosa and Walton counties.

Blacks in the state accounted for 40% of the 3,504 new cases of HIV identified in 2020.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Blacks accounted for 42% of the 36,801 new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2019, while constituting only 14% of the population.

Like the descending trend in Escambia, the data showed a four-year decline in Florida of just over 31% from 2016-2020. A 70% decrease was reported in Okaloosa over that same period.

So, while the number of new HIV cases among blacks is trending down, Moody says it’s still high and he provides a little context to help us understand why.

“Well, when you talk about African-Americans and HIV, unfortunately poverty plays a tremendous role in the number of HIV cases and unfortunately, Blacks are still disproportionately represented in respect to poverty,” said Moody, adding that Blacks are also disproportionately impacted with respect to incarceration.

“Many go into prison uninfected and leave infected and go back into their communities, and many are unknowingly transmitting the infection.”

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

No matter the reason, the key to preventing the spread of HIV among individuals of any race is to know your status, and Moody believes their expanding year-round awareness efforts are contributing to the recent downward trend.

“We have a free HIV night clinic every first Thursday of the month, from 4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m. And, we advertise our free clinic on all of the Escambia County public transit buses. We also advertise something known as (U=U) Undetectable=Untransmittable,” he said. “It’s important that we continue to keep the HIV message in the forefront.”

Other awareness strategies include using their mobile unit to go to low-income housing complexes to provide testing, advertisement on local media outlets that have a predominately black audience, and development of an HIV PowerPoint presentation that the Escambia County Jail has placed on its Kiosk system.

Specific to the observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness 2022, which has a theme of “Let’s Stop HIV Together,” FDOH-Escambia partnered with Edwards Chapel AME Zion Church to offer free confidential testing on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Additionally, tri-fold prevention display boards will be exhibited throughout the month at several other predominately black churches, as well as the Cobb and Fricker community centers.

“DOH-Escambia has the charge to share the prevention message,” said Moody. “But, the community has the charge to heed the prevention message, which means reduce the number of partners before having sex, get tested, have your partner tested as well, and share the results with each other.”

Moody also recommends getting in a mutually monogamous relationship, using condoms, engage in abstinence and using PrEP or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, a drug that helps keep individuals from getting HIV.

“HIV is preventable. Not one person needs to be infected. So, the term is prevention is preferable to cure and I truly believe that.”

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.