Federal health officials visited Miami this week to learn more about why HIV infection rates are higher in South Florida and Puerto Rico than most of the rest of the country and what they can do to change that.
The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS is working toward the Trump Administration's goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. by 2030. Specifically, the group is targeting 48 counties in the U.S. mainland -including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties-, Washington, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, where more than half of new HIV infections are occurring.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir, who is also an admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service and a pediatrician, said he visited community health centers and organizations in Miami that are doing "great things" that he hopes to see replicated elsewhere in the country.
He said he was impressed by Care Resource, a local health clinic with multiple locations.
He said Care Resource helps patients with life circumstances that might be affecting their access to health care, like a lack of housing or transportation.
"If you don't have food on the table or a place to live, it's very hard to know how to take care of yourself and take your medicine every day," Giroir said.
The federal officials also visited Latinos Salud, a community organization that fosters a welcoming community for gay Latinos, transgender people and those living with HIV.
Giroir said Latinos Salud helps new HIV patients understand how to manage the disease by sending a counselor with them to doctor's appointments.
"That kind of personal attention is just immeasurable in its value," Giroir said.
Giroir said one of the group's priorities in Miami is to learn how to counter religious, cultural or societal stigma affecting gay and bisexual men and transgender women, who are more likely to be affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. For example, he said, patients might be able to get medication in the mail if they're worried about going to a pharmacy.
Seven Florida counties that have been identified as areas with high rates of new HIV infection are receiving federal funding to put together plans by the end of the year for how to reverse those trends.
Giroir said Florida will likely receive an influx of new federal funding for fighting HIV/AIDS next year.