Nationwide, leading health centers and HIV organizations are encouraging people to get tested on June 27, National HIV Testing Day. The CDC estimates that about one in seven people in the United States who have HIV don’t know they are HIV positive.
In Pinellas County, a new group emerges to tackle this issue. “Zero Pinellas” is a community partnership committed to zero new HIV infections in Pinellas County. Participating members- AIDS Healthcare Foundation, The AIDS Institute, BayCare, Empath Health and EPIC, Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, and Metro Wellness and Community Centers- have been convening for the past year and a half to do a deep dive into how to best solve this problem.
Today, on National HIV Testing Day, they announced their partnership and are putting their plan into action. Supported by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Zero Pinellas will utilize the 90-90-90-50 cascade model similar to what other cities have done.
This model, often referred to as “Getting to Zero” or “Ending the Epidemic,” seeks to implement a test and treat strategy with the recognition that treatment is prevention. The goal is that 90% of persons living with HIV know their status; 90% of persons diagnosed with HIV are linked to care and retained in antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of persons retained in treatment have a HIV suppressed viral load. The culminating result of the 90-90-90 cascade will result in at least a 50% reduction of new HIV infections in three years.
“It is not often that competitive organizations and their funders can be convinced to gather around a table and engage in a series of open conversations about working together toward a common goal. And yet, that is exactly what we’ve been able to accomplish. I am grateful to see this collaboration come to fruition,” shares group facilitator Stacy Orloff. “I don’t believe this would have happened without the vision and support of the Foundation for a Healthy St Petersburg. Their guidance and financial support, and at times, their working to hold us accountable to this facilitative process, is ultimately what enabled our success.”
Zero Pinellas will be awarded a $2.2 million grant over a three-year period from the Foundation. It will support personnel, operation costs, outreach, testing and advocacy to implement the strategy.
“These organizations applied to the Foundation seeking ways to partner to stop Tampa Bay from HIV infection rates higher than many places in the nation; and disproportionately higher in young people, poorer people, and people of color,” says Randall H. Russell, President & CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. “We are so fortunate to have these courageous and wise leaders who came together to improve and change systems in Pinellas so that new HIV infections continue to diminish over time. The collaboration by the government through the health department; by the community through organizational collaboration; and by people living with or at risk of HIV infection will mean Zero Pinellas will greatly improve population health by targeting equity over the coming years.”
According to the Florida Health Department’s 2016 HIV Care Continuum report, an estimated 4,594 people are living with HIV in Pinellas County. Only 3,366 of these people are currently taking antiretroviral medication. Of those people, 3,025 people have the virus suppressed. In 2016 an estimated 174 people were newly infected.
There are many ways to reduce one’s risk of contracting HIV, including using condoms and other safe-sex practices, taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), not sharing needles, and regularly getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Free testing is available today and every day they’re open at the following locations in Pinellas County:
- EPIC at Campus 3050 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33712
- EPIC at 5771 Roosevelt Blvd, Clearwater, FL 33760
- AIDS Healthcare Foundation at 3400 26th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33711
- Metro at 3251 3rd Ave. N, Ste 125, St. Petersburg, FL 33713
- Metro at 4601 34th Street South, Ste. 102, St. Petersburg, FL 33711
- Metro at 2235 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33713
About Zero Pinellas
Zero Pinellas is a multi-system, multi-sector collaborative committed to implementing innovative strategies to reduce new HIV infections by at least 50% in Pinellas County, Florida within three years. Participating organizations are AIDS Healthcare Foundation, The AIDS Institute, BayCare, Empath Health and EPIC, Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, and Metro Wellness and Community Centers. Their collaboration elevates the community’s response to HIV by unifying their expertise and experience to broaden outreach, treatment and care.
About Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg is a private foundation formed in 2013 following the sale of the nonprofit Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. It is the steward of almost $180 million in assets to support health equity in Pinellas County. The Foundation inspires and empowers people, ideas, information exchange, organizations and relationships to end differences in health due to social or structural disadvantages and improve population health.