The annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is Friday. It’s held each year on February 7.
In a program, sponsored by Georgia Blackmon’s non-profit Mother Wit Institute, Rev. Rufus L. Wood from Panama City will be the keynote speaker at a 6 p.m. program at Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church at 500 E. Moreno St., Pensacola.
Saturday will feature the Inaugural Who Got Game Wellness Expo. The event is presented – in part – by the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, where HIV and AIDS awareness among African-Americans is a priority.
“African-Americans are overrepresented when we start looking at new cases and the cases we have now,” said Kenneth Griffin, early intervention and prevention training consultant for Area 1, which includes Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Escambia, where his office is located.
“African-Americans make up approximately 20% roughly of the population of Escambia County. But, if you look at infections when it comes to HIV, African-Americans tend to represent upwards of 40% to maybe sometimes 60% of those new cases.”
Due to education and testing efforts, the four-year trend from 2014-2018 shows a 36% decrease in HIV incidence among blacks in Escambia.
According to Griffin, it’s progress, but not enough.
“In 2020, we’re still having too many cases of new HIV, based on the fact that, how long have we been dealing with this outbreak, almost 50 years, and we’re still having people contracting HIV,” he said. “HIV is a behavioral-driven epidemic, yet we’re still seeing more cases, I think, than we should be having.”
The high rate of infection among African-Americans locally extends to state and national levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, blacks accounted for 13% of the US population, but 42% of the nearly 38,000 (37,832) new HIV diagnoses nationwide.
The first National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) was marked in 1999 in an effort to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in communities of color. The theme for 2020 is “We’re in This, Together.”
In planning for the annual observance, Griffin pointed to the importance of the timing and type of event offered.
“February is Black History Month,” Griffin noted. “Also, we wanted to come up with some type of activity or program that would draw African-Americans out.”
Based on those factors, Griffin says they decided to organize their Inaugural Who Got Game Wellness Expo to be held Saturday (Feb. 8) from noon until 5 p.m. at the Brownsville Community Center, 3200 West DeSoto Street.
The event will be centered around a couple of exhibition basketball games.
"We’ll be having some drawings, giving away some items like 32 inch televisions, flat screen, smart TV, a couple of kids bikes, and an adult bike,” Griffin said.
Additionally, there will be over 25 vendors providing services such as blood pressure checks, Hepatitis-A and flu vaccines.
Baptist Hospital, Sacred Heart and Hospital, Community Health Northwest will provide the free health screenings. Community-based organizations Oasis and AIDS Healthcare Foundation will provide HIV testing.
“Knowing your status is important,” proclaimed Griffin.
“If you’ve been infected with HIV or exposed, the sooner we can get you into care, the better the prognosis is going to be for your future.”
By getting people into care and on medication, their viral load goes down, and the virus within their body goes undetectable.
“They’re still positive for HIV,” Griffin explained. “They still have the potential to infect someone, but it’s a lot harder. So, then if we bring that person’s viral load down, we bring the community viral load down.”
Proactive measures, such as condom-use, are most important. But, improved treatments include daily use of PrEP, or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis pills to lower chances of getting HIV for high-risk individuals. PEP medicines are available after being potentially exposed to HIV.
Over the years, HIV testing has gotten better, too. Home testing kits are now available through the website: www.knowyourstatus.com.
Rapid HIV testing, which provides same-day results, will be available at Who Got Game Wellness Expo, the hoops-themed event in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Saturday at the Brownsville Community Center.