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Hope and Health Center leads the way in Orlando AIDS Walk

caines | 5/16/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Orange County ranks third in Florida for most HIV cases In 1988, HIV/AIDS was more commonly referred to as the gay disease. But that was before the public became aware of Ryan White a middle school student that was infected with HIV from a contaminated blood treatment. And while men who have sex with men [MSM] continue to account for more than half of the more than one million people currently living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., heterosexuals can now claim the highest rate of infection. In fact, heterosexuals between the ages of 14 - 23 represent 34 percent of all new cases. As for Blacks, while we make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, we account for the highest proportion of HIV infections at all stages of the disease from new infections to death. Thats why education, prevention and medical treatment are so critical to the survival of the Black community in particular and other ethnic groups in general.

Walking towards a world without HIV/AIDS

One agency whose mission is to save lives by treating and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS is the Hope & Health Center [HHC], founded in 1988. Since then, the Orlando-based organization has continued to open its doors and its hearts to thousands of Central Floridians. And on Saturday, May 18 in downtown Orlando, thousands of walkers and supporters will converge at Lake Eola for AIDS Walk Orlando 2013. The event kicks off at 7:30 a.m. with registration and 8:30 with the actual walk. Our mission has been the same for 25 years, said HHC Executive Director Marilyn Carifi. We want to end the spread of HIV/AIDS. Although our agency is proud of how proactive we have been by implementing programs and services to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, our work must continue. June Marie Ings, HHCs development director, says that with the rising costs associated with the medical treatment needed for those living with HIV/AIDS [estimated at $3,200/month], financial support for organizations like the HHC and their clients is essential. We have to continue to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and raise funds to stop the devastation of this disease, Ings said. Our donors are to be heralded for their years of financial support. It is because of them that Hope & Help Center has been able to serve the community for 25 years. However, the Center still has a lot of work to do. Consider the following: * In 2011, Florida ranked second in the U.S. for the estimated new cases of HIV. * As of 2013, almost 100,000 Central Floridians were known to be living with HIV/AIDS with an additional 2,500 presumed to be infected but unaware of their status. * As of 2013, Orange County ranks third in Florida for the most HIV cases. * Orlando has the 11th highest prevalence rate of HIV among the most populous 103 cities in the U.S., outranking San Francisco and Los Angeles. Adrian Humphrey-Brown, prevention director for HHC, says shes been committed to educating her community and providing treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS, especially children. I first became interested in HIV/AIDS education and prevention when I began serving as a volunteer in my community, she said. I met a young girl who was 20, had one child that was two and was pregnant with another all three were HIV-positive. As the years have gone by, I have seen the face of AIDS change from gay white males to Black women, Black youth and transgenders. I couldnt rest without doing my part. We have to get people tested regularly and if they become HIV-positive, get them into treatment right away. Thats the way to help people live longer and healthier lives. With 10 locations, the Center serves Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties. For more information go to www.hopeandhelp.org. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com