Florida will receive $10.61 million in funding to expand HIV infection prevention and treatment efforts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The money will help a handful of counties including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach. It’s the second round of funding from the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, which targets 50 locals areas that make up more than half of new HIV diagnoses.
Hillsborough will receive $674,419 in funding and Pinellas will get $457,986.
The funding comes just over a week after the CDC released its HIV surveillance report, which showed Florida leading the country in new HIV cases. Florida, according to the data, has the third highest infection rate in the U.S., reporting almost 4,400 new HIV cases in 2019.
Both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are among the federal government’s 48 “areas of concern” nationwide. And communities of color are hit particularly hard.
Nationally, Black Americans accounted for over 40 percent of the more than 37,900 new HIV diagnoses in 2018. And the disparities in death rates are stark. The death rate for Black Americans was the highest across racial/ethnic groups, with 16.3 per 100,000 compared to 2.5 per 100,000 for white Americans, according to the CDC.
“In Pinellas county, in terms of race, roughly half of all our new cases are African American, particularly African American young men,” said Darius Lightsey, HIV/AIDS program manager for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. High risk zip codes are concentrated mostly in the southern part of the county.
Similar trends persist in Hillsborough County, where the number of HIV diagnoses are up by nearly 20 percent since 2018.
In Pinellas, the department of health has set a goal of reducing the number of new cases in 2025 by 75 percent and then reducing them by 90 percent by 2030, said Lightsey. In order to reach the goal, they plan to partner with community groups including HIV-focused organizations and faith-based institutions who are well-known in the hardest-hit areas.
As the new funding comes in, Tampa Bay advocates and health care providers are mobilizing to increase the amount of testing and treatment available.
Empath Partners in Care — or EPIC — is among the groups receiving money through the department of health. They will expand community outreach and prevention efforts, including adding a mobile health unit to test residents and recruiting more peer advocates to encourage regular testing for sexual transmitted infections.
Adequately addressing the high HIV rates in Tampa Bay means placing a greater focus on social determinants of health such as affordable housing, access to healthy foods, employment opportunities and mental health services, said EPIC executive director Joy Winheim.
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“If you can’t meet your basic needs,” said Winheim, “it makes it hard to take care of yourself.”
Without resources like stable housing, some of patients struggle to prioritize HIV testing and treatment, especially when medication may need refrigeration, said Winheim.
“The environment matters,” said Marylin Merida, project manager for the Florida Family AIDS Network, which focuses on diagnosis and treatment for youth. “Zip codes are almost a predictor of HIV.”
Merida began her work in HIV in the 1980s. Then, “we were going to funerals every week,” she said. “This virus was lethal. It was haunting.”
And although modern treatment has made HIV less fatal, stigma around getting tested and treated remains.
Metro Inclusive Health, a local health and wellness nonprofit that provides services for the LGBTQ community, is also expanding programming. On Monday, the group announced a $100,000 donation from the Vinik Family Foundation which will go towards the construction of health care facility in Ybor City at Tampa’s German American Club.
The center will provide HIV care and case management as well as STI education and testing. It will also house primary care, behavioral health care and psychiatric services.
Metro Health has mobile testing units, aimed at reaching the communities hardest hit by the virus, similar to the ones EPIC is looking to expand. Like EPIC, they partner with the department of health.
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with the amount of funding Hillsborough County will receive.