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Flagler Health Department Observes World AIDS Day, Continues Fight Against HIV/AIDS Across State

By Gretchen Smith

November 30, 2018

Bunnell, Fla.— As the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County unites with partners worldwide in observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, the department reaffirms its commitment to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in Florida and helping connect individuals who are positive with lifesaving treatment and services. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the observance of World AIDS Day, and the national theme is “Saving Lives through Leadership and Partnerships.”

“We are committed to reducing the prevalence of HIV in our community and helping those with the infection lead healthier lives,” said Snyder. “Two years ago, Flagler residents with HIV had to seek treatment out of the county. Since that time, we have rolled out our own HIV treatment program under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Bickel that now rivals the quality of those in larger communities. In addition to offering routine screenings, we reach out to high-risk individuals for testing and to offer them preventative treatment. We re-engage HIV positive individuals into the care system, encouraging them to access and stay in treatment, while also raising awareness about high-risk behaviors and the importance of knowing one’s status.”

According to Snyder, over 1.1 million people in the US are living with HIV, but one in seven HIV-positive people do not know they are living with the disease.

Florida is a national leader in HIV testing, having made great strides in prevention, early identification and treatment; however, there is still much work to be done. To reach the goal of zero new HIV transmissions and reduced HIV-related deaths, the department is focusing on four key strategies:

  • Implementing routine screening for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, especially among high-risk populations.
  • Providing immediate access to treatment for the newly diagnosed as well as retaining HIV-positive persons in the care system, with the ultimate goal of getting HIV-positive persons to an undetectable viral load.
  • Improving and promoting the use of PrEP and nPEP as prevention strategies to reduce the risk of contracting HIV.
  • Increasing community outreach and awareness about HIV, high-risk behaviors and the importance of knowing one’s status.

There are currently 45 Test and Treat sites operating in Florida. With early diagnosis, individuals can begin appropriate treatment and care resulting in better health outcomes. Receiving antiretroviral therapy as quickly as possible after diagnosis improves the health of persons living with HIV and can eventually lead to undetectable viral loads, which reduces the chance of transmission to others.

As part of its efforts to eliminate HIV in Florida, the department is currently working to make Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication available for free at all 67 county health departments (CHDs). Currently, 43 CHDs offer PrEP services and the remaining 24 will implement PrEP services in STD or Family Planning clinics by the end of 2018.  PrEP is a once-daily pill that can reduce HIV-negative individuals’ risk of acquiring HIV. PrEP should be used in conjunction with other prevention methods, like condoms, to reduce the risk of transmission. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, taking PrEP daily reduces the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent.

Patients can obtain up to a 90-day supply of PrEP through their local health department. For more information about the HIV program in Flagler County, contact Mary Lachendro at 386-437-7350 ext. 7091. You can also call the Florida AIDS Hotline at 1-800-FLA-AIDS or 1-800-352-2437; en Español, 1-800-545-SIDA; in Creole, 1-800-AIDS-101.

About the Florida Department of Health

The department, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, works to protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts.

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For information about the Florida Department of Health in Flagler, go to flagler.floridahealth.gov, call 386-437-7350, or visit 301 Dr. Carter Blvd. in Bunnell.