Researchers focus on education as nation marks Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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As the nation marks Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Tuesday, public health experts in central Florida are focusing on education.

A new project will explore how HIV prevention and treatment can better meet the needs of Black women in Orange County.

Nationally, African Americans account for 42% of new HIV infections, even though they make up 13% of the population. In Orange, Brevard, Osceola and Seminole counties, the rate of diagnoses of new cases is nearly six times higher among black men than among white men.

The Florida Department of Health in Orange County held a free testing event last weekend and is offering free self-testing kits to residents.

“So, of course, stigma is always a challenge,” said Kara Johnson-Williams, who manages the region’s HIV program office.

She said part of the goal of educating people is to let them know they can live with HIV.

“It’s a chronic condition, the most important thing is to…know your status. Once you know your status, if you are HIV positive, you can be referred for care.

Johnson-Williams said last year its office had sent more than 700 test kits home. This year, she is looking to send 1,000 kits.

Figures from the Florida Department of Health show that for Seminole, Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties, the rate of new HIV infections among black women was seven times higher than among their white counterparts.

Because of historical racial and gender discrimination, “black women end up getting this kind of double whammy that makes their experiences of health care a little more difficult,” said Shan-Estelle Brown, assistant professor of anthropology at the Rollins College. “For example, their pain isn’t necessarily recognized, acknowledged, and addressed as quickly as it would be if someone else came along and described the same symptoms.

Brown is working on a new project to explore how HIV prevention and treatment can better meet the needs of Black women in Orange County.

Brown received a two-year fellowship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She is teaming up with the nonprofit organization Let’s BeeHive and J. Richelle Joe, a researcher at the University of Central Florida, to better understand how black women experience HIV care.

Because black women are so important in their communities, Brown said when they get sick, it has a ripple effect on everyone.

“But our hope is that we will find information that we get to try to improve not only health outcomes, but also health care experiences for black women locally.”

Brown said the team will work with health providers and community contacts to recruit women for the study. They will begin interviews and data collection in May.

Copyright 2022 WMFE

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