April 16, 2024
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Inclusivity Still Matters In Florida: Ensuring Access to HIV Resources for All

Inclusivity Still Matters In Florida: Ensuring Access to HIV Resources for All
Photo Courtesy: Hope & Help (@hopeandhelpinc)

According to a recent report from the CDC, Florida is one of the three highest states when it comes to new HIV diagnoses. To make matters worse, when it comes to STI transmission, statistics are historically low in their estimations, as numerous cases are never reported because many people do not have access to sexual healthcare or are simply embarrassed to seek out help. Thus, it becomes clear that this increase in STI cases is even more dire than it may have initially seemed. 

In Florida, young people account for an alarming number of these new HIV diagnoses, with individuals in the age bracket of 13-24 representing a staggering 20% of all new HIV diagnoses in 2020 — most of which were among young gay and bisexual men. It is crucial to empower young people with the education and resources they need to prevent the spread of HIV and receive appropriate healthcare if they have acquired HIV.

Education and healthcare services for HIV and STIs in Florida

One of the main reasons for this increase in HIV diagnoses is that people are not being tested and seeking appropriate care. Those who are sexually active should be getting tested every three months, as well as using appropriate preventative measures, including using condoms and taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent the spread of HIV. With greater access to these necessary education and care provisions, we could see a significant decrease in the number of new cases.

Although many medical providers do offer these essential services, certain barriers prevent people from accessing education, preventative resources, and treatment for STIs and HIV. Some of the most common obstacles include lack of comprehensive sexual education in our schools, food and/or housing insecurity, unemployment, unhealthy relationships, and mental health. Hope & Help’s mission is “to end the HIV/STI epidemic in Florida through comprehensive health education, prevention, testing, and treatment.”

Hope & Help started in 1988 as a support group when its founders’ close friend was dying of HIV/AIDS-related complications. Since then, the agency has grown to become one of the most comprehensive HIV and STI service organizations in Central Florida, providing preventative and treatment services to thousands of patients across the Sunshine State with offices in Orlando, Tampa, Pinellas, Seminole, and Miami. 

Hope & Help offers a wide range of services that help patients remain healthy and educated about not only STIs and HIV but also their wellness in general. In addition to testing and care for STIs and HIV, Hope & Help provides primary care, annual physicals/exams, onsite lab draws, immunizations, and gender-affirming care/HRT because its care team and medical staff understand their patients’ healthcare needs are just as diverse as they are.

Forming a sense of community to inspire wellness

At Hope & Help, the key to inspiring change in access to STI resources and education is forming a feeling of community. “No matter where you come from, who you are or want to be, or what you believe, there’s a place for you at Hope & Help,” asserts Lisa Barr, Executive Director of Hope & Help Center of Central Florida. “Healthcare is a basic human right that everyone needs to live their best life. That’s why we offer programs and health services specifically created to benefit all communities. Remember, HIV does not discriminate.”

Hope & Help’s commitment to this sense of community can be seen in its charitable initiatives, including the AIDS Run/Walk in Orlando, which will be held at Lake Baldwin in May 2024. This run is an annual fundraiser to support Hope & Help’s mission while also serving as a valuable opportunity to celebrate the strides made in the fight against HIV and to educate and bring the community together.

As a registered 501-(c) nonprofit organization, Hope & Help is committed to providing its services in ways that genuinely help the community, including financial support and payment options to those in need. In addition to accepting insurance from several providers, Hope & Help offers lower payments for patients in need through a Payment Discount Program. Beyond this payment flexibility, Hope & Help also stands out thanks to its programs offering benefits like food assistance, medication assistance, transportation assistance, and more.

One of the most unique programs offered by Hope & Help is their “Protect Your O” program, through which they deliver free condoms by mail. The clinic also provides telehealth options to make seeking help even more convenient and discreet for those who need it. Initiatives like these allow people to receive the education and resources they need to practice safe sex and reduce the spread of HIV and STIs without the potential embarrassment of having to go to a clinic in person. 

HIV is an increasingly prevalent problem in the state of Florida — especially among younger people, but thankfully, there are resources and education programs available to help curb the increase in new HIV diagnoses. Organizations like Hope & Help are assisting underserved communities to receive the preventative healthcare and treatment they need to stay sexually healthy and reduce the spread of this preventable disease.

Published by: Martin De Juan

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