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Free HIV tests available Saturday

Georgia ranks high nationally in HIV, AIDS cases

POSTED: June 24, 2009 11:23 p.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Registered nurse Tiffany Groskreutz holds the parts of an HIV test kit. The test can give a result with a drop of blood in about 20 minutes.

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One in five people with HIV does not know it.

That fact scares public health officials as Georgia claims one of the nation’s top spots for high rates, or proportion per area, of HIV infection and it ranks eighth in the nation with AIDS cases.

To help residents stay informed and healthy, several Gainesville area centers are offering free HIV testing on Saturday for National HIV Testing Day.

"HIV is still an issue in the U.S. The numbers aren’t going down but growing," said Angel Randolph, executive director of North Georgia AIDS Alliance. "People are infected and receiving care, and everyone needs to know their status so they can get into treatment as soon as possible and live long, healthy lives."

The alliance will offer free, fast testing at its main location on Oak Street and at Clinica San Lucas on Atlanta Highway. The test is a rapid oral swab that processes in 20 minutes; positive results will be tested further in a lab. The alliance offers free testing by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every week.

"The 2007 numbers for reported cases in the District 2 North Georgia region are 261, and that’s not low when you look at the population," Randolph said. "And those are just the reported cases. We know individuals are infected and just don’t know about it."

Although the highest numbers of HIV cases are in population centers such as New York and California, many of the areas with the highest rates are in the South, according to a data map released by National Minority Quality Forum, a nonprofit research organization.

The map depicts reported numbers from state health departments of people living with HIV and AIDS in 2006 in more than 90 percent of the nation’s counties.

HIV infection rates are higher in African-American communities, and high minority populations in the South help explain the finding. Even if that’s not a surprise, the high rates seen throughout states such as Georgia and South Carolina are, Gary Puckrein, president of the National Minority Quality Forum, told the Associated Press.

The map shows that 25 of 48 counties with the highest prevalence rates for HIV that had not yet progressed to full AIDS were in Georgia. Those were counties in which more than 0.7 percent of the population was infected with HIV.

Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia were heavily represented on another map, which showed the highest prevalence rates for cases that had progressed to AIDS.

In Hall County, about .10 of the population is infected with HIV, with .05 of the population progressing to AIDS.

Because the Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV as a part of their routine medical care, two additional area centers are joining Saturday’s testing day. The Center for Pan Asian Community Services in Doraville is offering fee testing all week by appointment.

"We have an HIV/AIDS department dedicated to fighting it, so we’re definitely supportive of the effort," said Lindsay Romasanta, program coordinator at the center. "The plus here is we serve Asian immigrants and refugees, so we have counselors who can speak to them in their native languages if they prefer."

Public Health District 2 also is sponsoring a clinic at Good News at Noon Ministry on Davis Street.

"We thought this would be the best way to get the word out for infected people who may not be aware," said Donald Slakie, public health educator for the district. "Everyone needs to be tested and know their status."



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