On World Aids Day, Prince George’s County leaders say recent numbers are a ‘call to action’

PRINCE GEORGE'S CO., Md. - Prince George's County Health Officer Pamela Creekmur says they usually take a lot of pride in being "first" in Maryland for a number of different categories.

However, becoming number one in the state with new HIV infections for 2016, a total of 328 new cases, is not one of them.

She says 29% of all new cases in Maryland are attributed to Prince George's County and the county only makes up 15% of the population.

"It’s a call to action for us to work harder and smarter and collaborate with everyone in the county," she said.

With the startling numbers, came an announcement for a  2017 HIV Strategic Plan, and funding to reduce the number of new HIV infections and to increase the number of residents with HIV in treatment.

According to the County Executive's Office, the Maryland Department of Health awarded the county $6 million to address the high prevalence in the county and help provide greater access to care for residents.

The Health Department also received $1.2 million to award to community partners aiding in STD prevention efforts and to expand treatment and prevention services, which includes the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PrEP), enhancing data surveillance, and increasing sexual wellness education and outreach initiatives.

Some of those outreach initiative include free STD testing clinics, which non-profit Heart to Hand Inc. provided at Bowie State University on Friday.

The grassroots organization specializes in HIV and STD testing and counseling, as well as sexual and health wellness services, medical case management and prevention education.

"We have to normalize STD testing," says Executive Director Dedra Spears-Johnson.

She feels all medical providers should provide the testing without question, and eliminating the stigma behind AIDS is a part of that.

She also feels the number of available services in the county, as well as poverty, contribute to the numbers.

"If you're worried about housing, sometimes you`re not worried about your treatment."

Health Officer Creekmur urged residents to use World Aids Day as an opportunity remind yourself and others to practice safe sex to reduce the risk of exposure, to seek routine HIV and STD screening, to obtain and continue medical treatment if you have HIV, and stand up against HIV stigma.

"These four powerful choices can make a positive impact in reducing HIV in our community and creating the healthiest Prince George’s County," she said.

For more information about HIV and STIs, testing locations, and additional services, visit the BeSTDFree website.