Congresswoman Wilson shines light on HIV
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson and other community leaders traveled to several health care locations across Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Monday to encourage the public to know their status and get tested for HIV.
In observance of National HIV Testing Day, Wilson and other elected officials, including Sen. Dwight Bullard, County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin, volunteered to take confidential HIV tests and urged community members to do the same. Wilson led a press conference at the Frederica Wilson and Juanita Mann Health Center, one of the free testing sites.
“We have a responsibility as leaders in this community to inform the public and get this disease under control,” Wilson said. “It’s not a death sentence anymore. HIV is a treatable disease and you can live a long, healthy life as long as you know your status and detect it early.”
National HIV Testing Day, held annually on June 27, began in 1995 to promote HIV testing and early diagnosis. According to state and federal data, around 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV; one in eight people don’t know they have it; and nearly 45,000 people find out they have HIV every year.
Lillian Rivera, health officer and administrator of the Florida Dept. of Health in Miami-Dade County, said Miami is No. 1 in the nation across all age groups and races in new HIV infections.
“HIV testing is the first step towards taking control of your health,” Rivera said. “The message is so important: get tested.”
By noon Monday, more than 100 people had taken advantage of the free testing at six sites, including: the Frederica Wilson and Juanita Mann Health Center; New Horizons Community Mental Health Center; Jessie Trice Health Center in Miami Gardens; Borinquen Health Care; Center For Haitian Studies; and Koinonia Worship Center in West Park.
Several other supporters came out, including DJ Ivory of 103.5 The BEAT and Elexus Persons and Destiny Bryant, seniors at Robert Morgan Educational Center and members of the ASCEND Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Gamma Zeta Omega chapter, the same chapter that Congresswoman Wilson is a part of.
“We are so supportive of this movement and encourage everyone to get tested,” Persons said.
Senator Bullard said he was happy to hear people were listening and getting the message.
“If we’re not having the conversation, then we’re failing and run the risk of losing a generation of people,” Bullard said. “Miami-Dade and Broward leads the nation in new infections. We have rapid testing now. There’s nothing intrusive or scary about it.”
Commissioner Edmonson agreed.
“Years ago, it was a sure death sentence. Now it’s treatable. You can get tested with the tap of your finger or swab of your cheek. There’s no reason to not know your status.”
Wilson has been a staunch supporter and advocate for HIV /AIDS education and awareness throughout her career in public service. She has sponsored several bills in the Florida legislature, including one that mandates HIV testing for prisoners upon their release from Florida prisons. The purpose of the bill was to confirm prisoners’ HIV status as they re-enter society and connect them to care if they were positive for HIV.
“When the neon sign is blinking that Miami is No. 1 in the nation, that is so significant,” Wilson said. “We need to shine a light on that statistic. The African-American, faith and education communities need to wake up and sound the alarm.”