Orlando continues to have a significantly high number of HIV diagnoses, as does Florida as a whole, and the region is struggling to get care for those who need it, according to newly released analyzes of 2021 data.
That year, 618 people in the Orlando metro area were diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus, which can cause AIDS, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with HIV in the metro area to 14,298.
Florida – with 5,000 new cases each year over the past decade – has one of the highest rates of new diagnoses in the country and has not seen a big decline, even as the United States has seen a decrease of 8% over the last 10 years. The rate of HIV-positive residents in Orlando is higher than the Florida average and almost double the national average, according to data released Nov. 14 on Aidsvu.org, which visualizes the impact of HIV using data from state and city health departments compiled by researchers at Emory University. Rollins School of Public Health.
Experts agree that progress has been made in recent years in Orlando and across Florida, but there is still an unmet need for care in the region, exacerbated by socioeconomic disparities.
The vast majority of people newly diagnosed with HIV in the Orlando metropolitan area in 2021 were Black or Hispanic, mostly residing in Orange County. Most were aged 25 to 44 and contracted it through unprotected sex. A smaller group caught it through injection drug use.
Downtown Orlando and nearby Orlo Vista stood out in 2021 for their high infection rates. ZIP code 32805 had one of the highest rates of people living with HIV, more than six times that of Florida. This zip code is predominantly black and mostly made up of people between the ages of 20 and 40.
“When we look at health disparities and the impact on health across the board – whether it’s diabetes, whether it’s cancer, whether it’s high blood pressure… when there’s a rainstorm for whites, there’s a storm for blacks and Hispanics,” said Imara Canada, national director of communications and community engagement for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Free HIV testing is available throughout Central Florida through the Florida Department of Health and other organizations, including AHF’s Out of the Closet thrift stores. Federal and state programs offer discounted or free treatment and pre-exposure prophylaxis – PrEP – a daily pill or biweekly injection that can significantly reduce the risk of contracting HIV.
Over the past five years, the number of PrEP users in Orange County has tripled, from 1,852 in 2018 to 5,553 in 2022, according to Aidsvu.
But data shows these resources aren’t reaching some of the people who need them most. While nearly 80% of people diagnosed in Orlando have been linked to HIV and received care after their diagnosis, only about 67% have been “virally suppressed,” which is when medications lower the load so much HIV virus that it can no longer be detected or transmitted.
Although these statistics match those of the rest of the country, they are far from ideal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set a national viral suppression goal of 95% by 2025.
“People are connecting to care but not staying in care,” said Elena Cyrus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied HIV across the state and country.
One of the biggest factors impacting people’s ability to get regular HIV care in Orlando is economic disparity, said Shaundia White, Orlando regional director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“Income disparity, housing costs, job insecurity have an impact on the lives of individuals. These things are really outside the realm of HIV care, but they all play an indirect role,” White said. “When these social factors come into play in a person’s life, their health tends to take a back seat.”
Some groups also face increased risk due to stigma or lack of information.
In Florida, about 13.5 percent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it, according to state estimates.
Women, in particular, are often excluded from discussions about HIV.
Nationally, a growing number of women — largely Black women — are being diagnosed after contracting the virus through heterosexual sex or injection drug use, Cyrus said.
In Orange County, about one in four people living with HIV are women, most of whom contracted the virus through heterosexual sex.
Consistent with national trends, women in the county were less likely than men to receive HIV care within a month of diagnosis.
“We have a problem with women who are least likely to benefit from PreP, link to care or be virally suppressed,” Cyrus said. “The risk is increasing. They need to be given more attention.
There’s also a need to reduce stigma, especially in communities of color, so people aren’t afraid to get tested, Canady said. He sees the lack of targeted, relevant messages as one of the factors driving up rates in communities of color.
In recent years, AHF and many other HIV prevention efforts have created groups that focus solely on targeted outreach to Hispanic and Black communities.
In recent years, these efforts have expanded to include transgender people. Last year, AHF launched a Central Florida chapter of Flux, a group focused on the transgender community.
“There is a community here that is here to love you, to support you in a non-stigmatizing space and to ensure that all people living with HIV not only live with HIV, but thrive while living with it. HIV,” Canady said. said.
Ccatherman@orlandosentinel.com ; @CECatherman Twitter
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