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Saturday, February 4, 2023

DOH-Marion to observe World AIDS Day with outreach event at Paddock Mall

Each year on December 1, World AIDS Day is observed around the globe to serve as a memorial for those lost to HIV, as well as an opportunity to make people aware of enhanced HIV prevention and treatment options.

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.” This theme encourages people to unite globally to eliminate the barriers to HIV testing, prevention, and treatment that are holding back progress on ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In observance of World AIDS Day, the Florida Department of Health in Marion County (DOH-Marion) will visit the Paddock Mall (3100 SW College Road in Ocala) on Thursday, December 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide the public with information about locally available HIV/AIDS testing, prevention, and treatment options.

The local health department states that Florida has made great strides to reduce HIV transmission and continues to work toward eliminating HIV-related deaths by providing equitable access to HIV prevention and care services. The rate of HIV deaths among all persons diagnosed with HIV in Florida has declined by 31% over the last decade, according to DOH-Marion.

The rates of those testing positive for HIV or AIDS in Marion County have also steadily declined over the past two decades, but DOH-Marion states that there is still more progress to be made. In 2021, there were 1,160 people living with HIV in Marion County.

Due to the advances in medicine over the past 40 years, HIV can be managed through prevention and treatment. DOH-Marion states that it is important that people know their options when it comes to HIV prevention and treatment.

Medication-based HIV prevention, which is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and HIV treatment are both based around antiretroviral therapy. Until recently, these medications were only available in pill form.

Nowadays, HIV prevention and treatment have evolved to include long-acting injectables. These medications are as effective as daily pills and provide individuals with additional options. DOH-Marion states that the key to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic is to ensure that every single person has an HIV prevention or treatment option that works for them.

DOH-Marion points out that testing and knowing one’s HIV status is important for both prevention and treatment, which will help the Marion County community prevent HIV transmission and new diagnoses.

DOH-Marion offers free HIV testing Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at its main office, which is located at 1801 SE 32nd Avenue in Ocala. For more information regarding preventative care and treatment, or to make an appointment, call 352-644-2667.

The first step toward effective HIV prevention and treatment is to know your status. People can reduce their risk for HIV by using appropriate prevention strategies, such as taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), using protection, and getting tested regularly, according to DOH-Marion.

For those who test positive for HIV, seeking HIV treatment is critical. DOH-Marion states that antiretroviral therapy can help people live longer and healthier lives. People living with HIV who take antiretroviral medication as prescribed and have an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners.

Both PrEP and HIV treatment medications are now available as pills and long-acting injectables.

To learn about testing options near you, or to order a free at-home HIV testing kit mailed directly to the address of your choice, visit the Know Your HIV Status website.

For more information regarding the Florida Department of Health in Marion County’s prevention and treatment options, or to schedule an appointment for a no-cost HIV test, call 352-644-2667 or visit the DOH-Marion webpage.