June 29th marked the completion of another National HIV Testing Day, a yearly joint effort led by the Baltimore City Health Department and multiple health clinics to test, diagnose, and treat HIV and AIDS free of cost. On this day, the Health Department offered these services at Baltimore locations such as the Mondawmin Mall in Liberty Heights from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Though the solemn state-sponsored holiday stresses the importance of getting regularly tested for HIV and AIDS (“Doing it” is the chosen motto for this year), health officials are doing much more to spread HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention to the people of Baltimore than just physical tests.
Baltimore City is a recent member of the Fast-Track Cities Initiative, a coalition of cities from around the national who are dedicated to stopping the HIV and AIDS epidemics not just in their own counties, but throughout the globe. By 2020, member cities pledge to have 90% of their population with HIV to know of their status, and also to have at least 90% of this group actively receiving treatment. In addition, cities like Baltimore want to have 90% of those aware of their status to have their viral loads under control.
These lofty goals require a great deal of educational effort on behalf of the city to eliminate obstacles such as HIV and AIDS discrimination, a barrier which health officials feel keeps many Baltimore City residents from getting themselves tested. In total, HIV programs within the city provide health services for more than 30 thousand visits per year, but the Health Department wants to see these numbers increase even further.
Baltimore residents have good reason to take advantage of National HIV Testing Day, more so than nearly anywhere else in the nation. There are presently over 13 thousand HIV-infected people living in the city of Baltimore, according to a press release from the Health Department. The release went on to further explain that Baltimore typically ranks as one of the highest HIV rates in the country on any given year.
According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, The Baltimore-Towson region ranked third out of all of the metropolitan areas for having the most HIV-infected with 18,318 cases in 2010. New York and Miami were the only cities out of the entire country with higher rates of infection that year.
According to recent reports by the Health Department, HIV rates have been on the decline throughout Baltimore, but they are still rising rapidly amongst homosexuals and transgendered women. In September of last year, the Centers for Disease Control awarded the city over $20 million in special grants to lower HIV infection rates among these two subgroups.
The Health Department also reports a high level of HIV infections within the African-American community. 84 percent of the HIV-infected population in Baltimore is African American, the Health Department’s release stated.
Aside from HIV testing, the Baltimore City Health Department provides counseling to the those with HIV and their partners, and also offers health lectures to schools and social communities upon invitation.
According to the Maryland Prevention and Health Promotion Administration, HIV does not noticeably progress into AIDS until 8 years after an infection. At this point, it is usually only another 2 years until the person dies. On average, a person with HIV is dead within 10 years if not treated. Since HIV symptoms can be as subtle as a fever, cough, or even a headache, city officials urge everyone to get tested regularly – even if they are not sexually active.