BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Louisiana data shows that Black people are experiencing severe health disparities regarding HIV and AIDS.
Last September, 22,708 people were living with HIV in Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Department of Health Office of Public Health. LDH says that about 32% of the state’s population is Black.
Approximately 5,472 people in Metro Baton Rouge were reportedly infected with HIV in September 2022. About 80% of them are Black, according to local data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says racism, HIV stigma, poverty and other barriers to health care continue to affect the Black community negatively. According to the CDC, Black people’s mistrust of the healthcare system and limited access to high-quality healthcare are some of these factors.
The City of Baton Rouge has early intervention services to help improve HIV care.
“Many in the community are HIV positive and do not know their status,” Executive Director for Family Service of GBR Rene’ Taylor said. “This causes the continual spread of HIV.”
Taylor says that Black people need education, awareness and empowerment so they are able to ask for treatment.
What are HIV and AIDS?
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects a person’s immune system and weakens them against bacterial infections or cancers. When HIV is left untreated, it can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
AIDS is the end-stage result of an immune system being weakened by HIV to the point it can no longer fight infections. A person cannot have AIDS without being infected by HIV.
HIV and AIDS in Baton Rouge
Of the 5,472 people in Metro Baton Rouge reportedly infected with HIV in September 2022, 2,775 people were living with HIV and 2,697 were living with AIDS.
According to the data, men in Baton Rouge made up the highest amount with 64%. Women made up about 35%. Children between the ages of 0 to 12 in Baton Rouge diagnosed with HIV or AIDS made up about 0.2%
Black men and women were the highest in their categories.
- Black men: 76.1%
- White men: 19.0%
- Hispanic/Latin: 3.4%
- Asian/PI: 0.3%
- Black women: 88.9%
- White women: 8.6%
- Hispanic/Latin: 1.7%
- Asian/PI: 0.2%
Black trans women also lead the trans women patient population with 87.9% of infections. Only two trans male patients are identified, and one is Black.
Where to get tested in Baton Rouge
“A person can be tested for HIV at many clinics and organizations in the community,” Taylor said.
There are five healthcare providers in Baton Rouge that offer targeted HIV testing:
- Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge
- Open Health Care Clinic
- Our Lady of the Lake Mid-City Clinic
Taylor said the state’s office of public health provides funding to clinics and community organizations to give free HIV, syphilis and Hep C testing.
How HIV/AIDS is spread
“HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex from an individual that is HIV positive,” Taylor said. “Any individual male, female, LGTBQ, etc. can contract HIV.”
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation says that HIV can spread through semen, vaginal fluids, anal mucus or any other bodily fluid. HIV can also be transmitted through sharing needles for drugs, piercings and tattoos.
The data shows that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are the primary risk factor for new cases in Louisiana, but the highest percentage in the exposure category was high-risk heterosexual acts with 44%. For men who have sex with men, the exposure rate was 35%.
What does testing for HIV/AIDS in Baton Rouge look like?
Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge’s prevention team implements activities that include targeted HIV, syphilis, Hep C testing, counseling and referral services that link newly diagnosed clients to medical care within 24-48 hours.
“Clients are supported by a peer navigator and medical case manager to maintain medical adherence after diagnosis,” Taylor said.
Taylor says that proper medication, paired with further tests and kept appointments will eventually make HIV undetectable in a client’s system.
The Healthcare Healthcare Foundation says that when a viral suppression HIV load is “undetectable” in your body, you can’t pass HIV to your partner.
As for babies who are diagnosed with AIDS and HIV, Taylor says that a nurse will come to the home and do direct observations to make sure they are receiving the correct dose of medication.
FSGBR also provides mental health and substance treatment for women through its HIV Women and Children’s Program. Children who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS can attend a Red Ribbon Youth Group, according to Taylor.
How to break the stigma
Taylor says that the stigma around HIV is huge and negatively affects people in pursuing treatment and not wanting anyone to know which often includes family members.
“Attempts to eliminate stigma include billboards encouraging HIV testing and knowing your status, social media, websites, outreach flyers, statewide hotline, education and awareness in the community,” Taylor said.