Houston and Harris County combined have higher rates of new HIV diagnoses

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A vigil was held at Sam Houston Park for World AIDS Day to honor the 33 million people who have died due to HIV-related illness since the start of the HIV Epidemic.

The Houston Health Department, along with other community partners hosted the vigil on the 33rd annual World AIDS Day in downtown Houston. It was one of several events held across the Houston area on Wednesday.

President Joe Biden's administration announced a new initiative in conjunction with the CDC to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses and to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

John Huckaby, CEO of the AIDS Foundation Houston said this could have a significant impact on local organizations including AIDS Foundation Houston that works to provide resources and preventative services to the community.

"We're very grateful that the federal government is increasing the resources at the community level," Huckaby said. "So that agencies like ours can continue to develop strategies and interventions to really move us toward ending the epidemic. We believe we can get there."

According to AIDS Foundation Houston, one in seven people nationwide are unaware of their HIV status.

Both Houston and Harris County have higher rates of new HIV diagnosis and people living with HIV, than the rate for the state of Texas and the United States, according to the latest data report.

Huckaby told ABC13 that the African American community comprises 50% of all people living with HIV in the Houston area, and Hispanic or Latinos comprise 28.5% of people living with HIV in the Houston area.

"What's worrisome to us is among recent cases, the Latino community comprises 37% of the total population of those recently diagnosed," Huckaby said. "So we know that we have real concerns among persons of color in our community and their vulnerability to HIV."

Nationwide, Black and brown communities are disproportionally impacted by the HIV infection rate.

Dr. Allyssa Harris, the dean of nursing at Prairie View A&M University, said one of the factors that contribute to those alarming numbers is access to affordable healthcare.

"It really is about access to care and lack of insurance, and so people really not seeking care on a variety of issues just because of money issues, or no insurance or things like that," Harris said. "Or not having the time, being able to ask time off of work or their normal life duties to seek care for things. We really want to improve access across the board."

Harris said it is also important for the community to eliminate the stigma surrounding preventative care, getting tested for HIV regularly, or talking about safe sex measures.

"If you are not being offered an HIV test, you should ask to be tested," Dr. Harris said. "You need to think about your risk behaviors, what behaviors you're engaging in, and whether they are putting you at risk for acquiring HIV or a sexually transmitted infection. I think that is vitally important, especially to women. When we think about HIV transmission in women, especially minority women, they are at greater risk for heterosexual transmission and people think it's related to IV drug abuse and it really isn't, among women, the rates are much higher in African American and Latino women than in other groups."

The Houston Health Department offers free and confidential HIV and STI testing at its health centers. To schedule an appointment, you can call 832-393-5010 or visit the Houston Health Department's website.

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