More people will be tested for HIV in the upcoming year due to a $1.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The grant is designed to increase testing among populations disproportionately affected by HIV, primarily African Americans.
“During the next year, we will be working to test 115,000 individuals statewide,” said Jack Carrell, prevention program manager for the Office of Public Health’s HIV/AIDS Program. “This is 65,000 people more than we regularly test and primarily targeted toward the African American population.”
Beth Scalco, Director of the HIV/AIDS Program, says African Americans accounted for 68 percent of the new HIV infections in 2006 while making up only 33 percent of the state’s population, clearly indicating that they have a higher infection rate than other groups.
“In addition, 46 percent of African Americans testing positive with HIV in 2006 were also diagnosed with AIDS in the same year, meaning they are learning of their HIV status late in the disease,” said Scalco. “Progression to AIDS often takes more than 10 years from the time of infection.”
The CDC estimates that a quarter of those living with HIV – more than 5,000 Louisianans – do not realize they are infected. This new testing effort is intended to identify undiagnosed individuals, make them aware of their status, and to connect individuals who test positive with primary medical care.
This initiative will also focus on implementing routine, voluntary and confidential HIV testing in health care settings, where opportunities to screen for HIV are often missed. This includes emergency rooms, urgent care clinics, correctional health facilities, community health centers, Family Planning clinics and clinics which treat tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Sites are being chosen based on HIV prevalence and incidence in the area.
Testing will also take place in community settings such as housing projects, churches and other areas that will target African Americans and populations at high risk for HIV. In addition, a special program will address locating partners of persons who test HIV positive.