- Faith & Family
Miami-Dade County [M-DC] has had its challenges with police-involved shootings, gang violence, escalating unemployment and the aftermath of hurricanes. Now the County is facing one of its most serious problems ever — currently ranking number one in the U.S. in the number of new AIDS cases. Not far behind is Broward County that recently posted the second highest number of new AIDS cases in the country.
Blacks should be even more concerned given the newest data. While they make up 20 percent of the population in M-DC, they account for 51.5 percent of AIDS cases; in Broward, Blacks are 25 percent of the population but 57.6 percent of the AIDS cumulative cases. Palm Beach County ranks sixth. The numbers suggest that Blacks are in a state of crisis.
“Miami-Dade County is the epicenter of new HIV/AIDS cases being reported,” said Johnson, who was in Miami to announce a new collaborative effort aimed at providing high quality medical services to the growing HIV/AIDS population in South Florida, many of whom are Blacks. “We need to educate the urban areas and underserved communities about HIV/AIDS, get them tested, get them to come back for their results, get them on a treatment program and then make sure they stay on the program and are compliant. This is all about people. I’m raring to go.”
Johnson, 53, tested positive for HIV 20 years ago and stunned the world with his early retirement from the L.A. Lakers. Today, under medical supervision, he is healthy, managing his HIV with a daily regimen of drugs and exercise. And he’s become a leading advocate for worldwide HIV awareness and testing.
Local advocates still in the trenches
“There are several new preventive, anti-retroviral treatments that are now in trials that we believe will reduce the infection rates of those that may have just been exposed to the HIV virus,” said Vanessa Mills, executive director, Empower U, Inc. — the only Black agency [Liberty City] based in M-D County. “But beyond bio-medical intervention, we have to really start talking to each other, especially to our young Black men. Condoms still prevent infection but folks don’t want to use them. As for young Black males who have sex with other Black males, their infection numbers have risen to dangerous proportions. We have to find a way to convince them to change their sexual practices and to make better choices.”
Mills noted that she sees many young clients who feel that HIV/AIDS is nothing more than an annoyance in their lives. But as a nurse and a woman who has lived with the virus for over 20 years, she says it’s still one of our country’s greatest health challenges.
“Young people don’t remember how people looked back in the 80s when they contracted the virus — they don’t remember how quickly people died or how painful their deaths were,” she said. “They think they can take a few meds and forget about it. But there are new strands of HIV that have recently appeared and we’re not sure if the current regiment of medication can fight them.”
Lorenzo Robertson, Florida statewide MSM coordinator, Florida Bureau of HIV/AIDS points to health disparities in the Black communities as one reason to be alarmed.
“Many Blacks have no health insurance and so they wait until they’re sick and then go to an emergency room,” he said. “By that time, if you’re HIV-positive, it’s probably too late. The white community has joined forces to fight HIV/AIDS and to prolong their lives. But Blacks are still debating about how folks became positive or pointing fingers at those who have the virus. We don’t have time for that. We have to become proactive.”
Clear Health Alliance, the University of Miami and Magic Johnson Enterprises are all part of a new team approach to combating HIV/AIDS in South Florida. The ‘dream team’ says they are anxious to get to work.
“This will be a game changer for AIDS patients in Miami and we’re excited to bring these services to the underserved in the community,” said Dr. Pascal J. Goldschmidt, senior vice-president for Medical Affairs and dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and CEO of Miami Health System. “I applaud Mike Fernandez [chairman of the board, Simply Health care Plans, the company that provides the Clear Health Alliance HIV/AIDS Medicaid Specialty Plan] and Magic Johnson for their collaborative vision to unite in bringing medical services to those with HIV/AIDS.”
By D. Kevin McNeir