Orange County gets $10 million federal grant to enhance HIV/AIDS care

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Orange County is getting a $10 million federal grant to enhance HIV/AIDS medical care and critical support services for local residents.

The award was announced last week by Central Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto. The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' emergency relief program provides direct financial assistance to metropolitan areas that have been the most severely affected by the HIV epidemic.



The Orlando metropolitan area jumped to second place among U.S. cities for the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in 2017 with 718 new cases, according to a November 2018 report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2015, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area ranked sixth behind other Southern cities with 25.7 new HIV cases per 100,000 people, for a total of 614 new diagnoses. In 2017, Central Florida's rate increased to 28.6 new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 people, surpassing other major cities like Atlanta, New Orleans and Baton Rouge.



The only rate higher than Orlando came from the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area, with a rate of 35.3 new HIV cases per 100,000 people, for a total of 2,177 new diagnoses.

Although HIV rates have plummeted nationwide, in Florida the virus continues to ravage communities. In 2017, 4,800 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the Sunshine State – more than any other state in the nation, including bigger states like California, with 4,500 cases; Texas, with 4,364 cases; New York, with 2,772 cases; and Georgia, with 2,595 cases.

"This grant is a massive win for Orange County and a light of hope for thousands of HIV-positive individuals in Central Florida," Demings says in a statement. "Incredible advancements in medical science can extend lives, suppress symptoms, and reduce the risks of transmission, but access to these treatments is not evenly distributed. This grant will help us to build comprehensive systems to care for all members of our community, including those who have had limited access to it in the past."

Last year, the Florida Department of Health began providing the HIV prevention drug for free throughout the state.

"Central Florida has made great strides in the fight against HIV over the years, and I have no doubt these federal dollars will support the lifesaving work being done in our community," Murphy says. "This grant will help us reduce infection rates and provide greater access to support services that can help those affected by HIV live longer and healthier lives."

The $10 million grant will help "enhance access to high quality, community-based care for individuals and families with HIV and supports strategies to reach minority populations," according to the news release. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people with HIV or AIDS live in the metro Orlando area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"We can change these trends," Soto says. "This grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the first critical step to enhancing access to HIV care for our region."

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