Florida’s Orange County has ranked as one of the state’s highest HIV rates for new infections over the last five years. Last year, however, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) reported a 5 percent decrease of diagnoses.
The state overall has a goal to reduce HIV cases down to 75 percent by 2025 and 90 percent by 2030 using various treatment and education plans.
FDOH’s Central Florida HIV program manager, Kara Williams, told WMFE, “I know it’s a really ambitious goal. Even if it’s not reached, I believe that through those different efforts, we’ll be able to reach a whole subset of people who may not have known their status, or not even know the importance of their status.”
Orange County has averaged around 440 new HIV cases a year since 2017, which lands it in Florida’s top three counties for HIV transmission. Orlando, on the other hand, ranked number two for metropolitan areas around the country. That puts them just ahead of Atlanta, Georgia, and right behind Miami.
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also estimates that Florida has the second-highest national total for new cases per year.
Williams began a “four pillar” plan to reduce case numbers. This includes diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and response, with the biggest emphasis going to diagnosis. Although that’s the priority, the FDOH faces challenges in convincing people to get tested.
“I mean, stigma can affect anyone from even thinking that they need an HIV test,” said Williams, noting that they want to empower people to take control of their sexual health.
To help normalize testing, at home test kits saw an increase of interest after first finding use during the 2020 COVID-19 spread. There were some 335 requests for at home kits between July and September.