By Guest Writer Julio C. Rodríguez, Long Beach Health Dept.
Since the first AIDS case was reported here in Long Beach back in early 1983, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has continued to affect us. Well into three decades since the syndrome was defined by the medical community at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), various interventions have been developed to help decrease the number of new infections.
According to the CDC more than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV and almost 18 percent are unaware of their infection. Although in the past decade the number of people living with HIV has increased, the overall number of new HIV infections has remained at a relatively stable level, about 50,000 new HIV infections per year. However, the pace of new infections continues to increase particularly among certain groups, such as men who have sex with men (MSM).
In 2010, the CDC reported the number of new HIV infections in the United States among MSM was about 29,800.
Generally, HIV and AIDS are concentrated in urban areas, such as Los Angeles County, which includes the city of Long Beach. In 2011, Los Angeles County reported 1,880 diagnoses of HIV/AIDS infections, with 9 percent of the cases from the city of Long Beach. Compared to other cities in the South Bay, Long Beach has higher rates of HIV/AIDS diagnoses. In that same year MSM was the highest risk group in the South Bay/Long Beach area.
As of 2013, Long Beach has a total of 4,635 HIV/AIDS living cases, with 74.8 percent of these cases in the MSM population. In terms of other STDs our incidence rates prove to be high, especially in certain age groups and certain populations.
The rate of infection for chlamydia in 2013 was high in females ages 20-24, and gonorrhea was also high in females in the 14-24 age group, and also high in males in the 20-29 age group. In the last two years we have seen an increase in the syphilis incidence rate in Long Beach from 10.1 to 16.2 in 2013.
To reduce the disease burden in Long Beach various strategies for reducing the acquisition of HIV/STD infection have been adapted by community agencies, as well as, the Department of Health and Human Services. Some of the strategies include HIV and STD counseling and testing; individual, small-group, and community-level behavioral interventions to reduce risk of infection; promotion of condom use; detection and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and mental health and substance abuse counseling. And now we offer a new tool to aide in the reduction of HIV infection rates; in July of 2012 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Truvada for use as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) among sexually active adults at risk for HIV infection.
At the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services we provide the above mentioned services to residents of Long Beach and the surrounding areas with the a goal of reducing the number of new infections, and establishing overall wellness messages to the public.
In 1988, an Early Intervention Program (EIP) was established to provide quality of life to those infected with HIV and to prevent further transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus to people at risk. Since then we have continued to see an average of 300 HIV positive patients through our now enhanced HIV Care and Coordination (HCC) Program by providing medical services, health education, case management, treatment advocacy, support and direct linkage to outside specialty services when needed.
In our Preventive Health Clinic we provide Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) testing, treatment and counseling services for community members who are affected by HIV/AIDS and STDs by appointments and on a walk-in basis.
Our trained counselors and nurse practitioners offer counseling and education on reducing one’s risk for infection for HIV and STDs, as well as case management services in order to follow-up with patients’ health care. This program works in conjunction with the our Family PACT (Planning, Access, Care and Treatment) Clinic to maximize prevention efforts in keeping our community healthy by offering information on sexuality, pregnancy planning, HIV testing, pre-pregnancy planning, medical evaluations and exams, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control methods counseling.
With an average of 200 to 300 patients seen in a month our providers assess patients, and help patients make the right choice to plan and have a healthy family. In addition to the clinics in our facility we also have a Mobile Clinic and Outreach program targeting high-risk individuals in areas of Long Beach where the HIV disease burden is high, as well as special events and health fairs.
Since June of 2013, our HIV Care Coordination Clinic in conjunction with the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center has been part of one of the many PrEP demonstration projects being launched in the U. S., providing PrEP, as well as behavioral counseling and other services to eligible MSM and male-to-female (MTF) transgenders in the Long Beach and South Bay area for free.
Recently, we began a support group for high-risk HIV-negative individuals and HIV-positive individuals, called Mentors & Buddies. The goal of this group is to integrate the two populations in one space to foster an opportunity to learn from one another, and to reduce the stigma surrounding how HIV is transmitted.
For more information on any of our services in our clinics, call 562/570.4315. We have staff that can assist in English and Spanish.