BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Baton Rouge no longer leads the nation for its rate of new AIDS diagnoses, and officials are crediting the increased use of HIV testing at hospitals.
In 2016 Baton Rouge held the top spot for the rate of new AIDS diagnoses, but now ranks number 10. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Advocate reported.
City officials touted the change in a news conference Monday at a health clinic run by Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and LSU Health.
“The first step to stopping the HIV epidemic in Baton Rouge is awareness,” Broome said. “The earlier you know, the faster our medical and social services can help.”
Broome pushed to increase “opt-out” testing in hospital emergency rooms. She says people who know their status are more likely to seek treatment. Under the “opt-out” testing, any patient seeking emergency care at three area hospitals are automatically tested for HIV unless they decide they don’t want to get tested.
From 2016 to 2018, the number of tests completed has gone from 6,490 to 22,875.
“Prevention and treatment go together,” said Shirley Lolis, executive director at Metro Health, a local HIV/AIDS public health organization. “Testing is very, very, very important.”
The city has seen an uptick in the number of new HIV diagnoses, likely a result of the increased testing.
The city-parish is currently talking to other hospitals to join the initiative, according to Jared Hymowitz, director of the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative. The Mayor’s Office is also using some money from a $1.5 million grant that East Baton Rouge Parish received from the Centers for Disease Control to hire a full-time staff member in the mayor’s office to coordinate its HIV/AIDS initiatives.