TAMPA — In Florida, as in much of the United States, HIV is spreading fastest not among gay males, but among black families. Yet a May summit for pastors in parts of Tampa where HIV infections are plaguing black communities was only lightly attended.
Conspicuously present at that and other community meetings on HIV/AIDS was a white drugstore manager.
Doug Boyd runs the Walgreens at 2115 E Hillsborough Ave. in College Hill, one of Tampa's worst-hit neighborhoods. It's for them he's turning over his parking lot on Monday to National HIV Testing Days.
All Walgreens stores offer HIV awareness and care, but Boyd started to see how many affected families come into his store for quarts of milk, birthday cards — and HIV meds.
They are a relatively small proportion of his customers, and Boyd says they look like everyone else, mostly moms, dads and kids. But they are the faces of shocking statistics: 90,000 Floridians have HIV/AIDS, nearly twice the national rate. One-fourth aren't receiving treatment. One-fifth of those who have HIV don't know it, according to health statistics.
HIV, detected early and properly treated, is not the death sentence it once was. Overall, new infections have declined. But it still results in the death of about 400 black women in Florida each year, most of whom are infected by men. That's more than the total number of white men and women who die because of AIDS. And the death rate among black men is almost seven times higher than among white men.
The reasons for this phenomenon are many and complex, but one that Boyd hopes to help address is that black Americans generally have less access to health care than whites.
Boyd saw the epidemic's impact when he started managing the E Hillsborough Avenue store two years ago.
"It became personal," he says.
Walgreens has designated some pharmacies in hard-hit areas like Boyd's as HIV "specialty stores." The chain assigned Ngozi Benyard, a doctor of pharmacy, to supervise its prevention effort in Tampa. Pharmacy staffs in those stores get extra training in HIV care. They offer counseling and keep track of customers' dosages, since consistency is vital to HIV therapies' success.
"Above all," Boyd said, "we want to make sure they don't miss one dose."
Boyd went further. He joined the Tampa Bay Community Events Partnership and linked up with Andrew Maldonado, the regional minority AIDS coordinator for the Hillsborough County Health Department. Boyd also attended meetings of the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS of Tampa Bay.
His involvement has given HIV prevention workers new access to a hidden population.
"They don't come to USF," said Michelle McKinney, an infectious diseases researcher for the University of South Florida. "But they go to their drugstores."
John Barry can be reached at email@example.com.