By Nicole Mitton, Grant Writers and Communications Specialist
HIV/AIDS is a global public health concern, with an estimated 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.2 million people in the United States live with HIV, and 14% don’t know they have the virus.
Every year on December 1, people worldwide unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and commemorate people who have died from AIDS. In 2014, the theme for World AIDS Days is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.”
Whittier Street Health Center held its World AIDS Day event on December 4. The community we serve has disproportionately high rates of STIs, with new HIV diagnoses remaining high among blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. For example, in 2012, among the almost 50,000 people diagnosed with HIV, 47% were blacks/African Americans, and 18.5% were Hispanics/Latinos (CDC, 2014).
The event was well-attended, with about 75 people coming to be part of the day. The featured speakers illuminated HIV/AIDS from different perspectives. Dr. Cassandra Pierre, an Instructor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, explained the biological basis of HIV; a representative of Connected Boston, a program of The Multicultural AIDS Coalition (MAC), discussed the issues facing Black and Latino gay and bisexual men in the Greater Boston area; and HIV-positive individuals spoke about their personal experiences.
Attendees remembered those who were lost to AIDS, and acknowledged the struggles of those living with HIV today. While the event was going on, Whittier’s Peer Support Counselors conducted testing and education.
The event ended with red and white balloons being released into the sky, to symbolize our hope and determination in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Afterwards, a separate event was held for youth. The focus was on educating them about STIs and HIV/AIDS, and encouraging prevention and safety. There was a film about how to protect yourself from STIs and HIV, a presentation on the mechanics of transmission, and a sharing of personal experience from one of Whittier’s Youth Intervention Counselors. Thirty young men and women attended the Youth World AIDS Day event at the health center.
HIV Services at Whittier Street Health Center
Our HIV Services Department provides outreach, community building, prevention, testing, case management, peer support, and treatment. We compassionately help people overcome their fear of being tested and understand how they can be treated.
Our HIV testing program is easy to access. Anyone, patient or not, can come in during clinic hours for a free, confidential rapid test. Our outreach workers also conduct testing on our mobile medical van. All of our primary care providers are trained in HIV screening and counseling to engage the patient from the start.
Those who test positive for HIV are immediately linked to a case manager who coordinates their care while they are a patient at Whittier. Along with treatment, patients receive help with adherence, housing, employment, insurance compliance, and other issues. The immediate linking of patient to care is the first step in eliminating the barrier to accessing care, particularly for conditions such as HIV that carry a stigma.
For more information about our HIV Services Department, please visit our webpage or call 617-989-3013.