World AIDS Day: FL is heavily impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic

World AIDS Day ribbon. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

State officials on Tuesday commemorated those who are living with or have lost their lives due to HIV/AIDS, a global public health issue with disproportionate HIV rates in southern states in the nation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Dec. 1, people across the globe recognized World AIDS Day, to raise awareness of the incurable disease that has plagued the world.

And Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation, saying “Florida joins the world in supporting efforts to increase awareness and understanding of HIV and remembering those we have lost.”

HIV is a virus that attacks a person’s immune system and currently doesn’t have a cure. Southern states such as Florida, Georgia and Louisiana account for the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses, according to the CDC.

The Florida Department of Health said in a press release that “there were approximately 134,900 people living with HIV in Florida in 2019.”

According to the state health department, HIV killed 644 people in Florida and was the ninth leading cause of death in 2019.

“In public health, we’re often looking forward. We talk about preventing new HIV transmission, we talk about long-term care for people living with HIV, we talk about ending the HIV epidemic,” Dr. Scott Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general, said in a written statement.

“And that is all vitally important. But it’s also so important that we set time aside for looking backward, for remembering. On World AIDS Day, we honor those who have lost their lives to HIV. In their memory, and for those living with HIV, we push on,” he continued.

The state health department in Escambia County in Pensacola held an event where attendees were offered free, rapid HIV testing and information about HIV prevention.

“World AIDS Day provides a unique opportunity to remember the people we’ve lost over the past four decades and bring attention to our collective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Lt Governor Jeanette Nuñez said in a written statement.

The CDC estimated that “1.2 million people in the United States had HIV at the end of 2018 and “about 14%, or 1 in 7, did not know they had HIV.”