Florida: Feds Step in to Fight Broward's Stubborn AIDS Epidemic

Federal officials are bringing additional resources to help Broward County boost HIV testing, prevention education, and treatment to address its stubborn HIV/AIDS epidemic. Federal and county health officials are meeting with local health, political, and business leaders to push for bolder approaches, as part of a national effort targeting about a dozen large jurisdictions with high infection rates.

Once the local group has finalized a plan for CDC by June 30, federal agencies could channel as much as $2 million to Broward for expanded HIV/AIDS efforts. That would be on top of about $15 million the county already receives. Miami-Dade County started its own process in 2009, and its efforts are now underway.

Objectives being discussed include routinely testing almost everyone to reach the estimated 20 percent of HIV-positive people who do not realize they are infected. That requires buy-in from doctors, who can be reluctant to discuss HIV/AIDS, said Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, emergency medicine chief with the North Broward Hospital District.

HIV testing also will need to be conducted in unconventional settings, such as at stores, youth clubs, churches, and other community venues, said Dale Holness, a Broward County commissioner involved in the campaign. Prevention efforts will be audience-tailored, such as reaching young adults through social media and nightclubs, where substance use can lead to unsafe behavior, he said.

Initiating treatment earlier can help greatly, but some newly diagnosed patients still do not seek treatment, said Kathleen Cannon, COO of Broward House, which has participated in community gatherings regarding the campaign.

HIV affects everyone, through the illness directly and higher taxes for treatment, said Marsha Martin, an Oakland, Calif., prevention specialist working with CDC in Broward and other localities. "Someone in your family, someone you work with, someone on your street, someone you know has the virus," she said.