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State, city to offer free HIV testing to push African American awareness

A broad coalition of government agencies and non-profit organizations will be offering free HIV testing in Baltimore on Friday — which is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

The events and the national initiative are efforts "to encourage African Americans to get educated, get tested, get involved, and get treated for HIV/AIDS," according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is helping to host the events.

“HIV education and testing are key, and adherence to HIV medications helps to prevent the spread of HIV to others, ” said Dr. Laura Herrera, the state's deputy secretary for public health services, in a statement.

According to national statistics, more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, and Maryland ranks fourth among all states for the highest diagnosis rate. (Maryland's rate is 36.4 diagnoses per 100,000 people.)

While HIV affects all demographics and age groups, African Americans make up a disproportionate number of Marylanders with HIV, officials said.

Heterosexual African American women make up 18.8 percent of Marylanders with diagnosed HIV. They are closely followed by African American men who have sex with other men, who represent 18.4 percent of Marylanders with diagnosed HIV, and African American men who are intravenous drug users, who represent 17.3 percent, state officials said.

Baltimore health officials have also reported a disproportionate number of HIV infections among African American city residents.

In 2011, when African Americans represented about 62 percent of the city's population, they accounted for 85 percent of all identified HIV cases (10,200) and 81.4 percent of newly diagnosed cases (340).

Overall, new HIV cases in the city dropped by 24 percent between 2009 and 2011, but increased among the African American community by 1.5 percent, city officials said.

Black youth represents 57 percent of all new HIV infections among the 13 to 24 age range.

State health officials said many factors contribute to HIV infection, including "failure to use condoms, being too intoxicated by alcohol and drugs to make wise decisions, having multiple sex partners, sharing HIV infected IV drug needles, and engaging in sex for drugs or money.”

To honor the national awareness day, the health department's Infectious Disease Bureau is partnering with the organization Sisters Together and Reaching (STAR) to host a "Marathon Testing Event" from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at 901 N. Milton Avenue in Baltimore, on the third floor.

The state health department is also partnering with the Baltimore City Health Department and Total Health Care to offer HIV and syphilis testing from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the first floor atrium of Mondawmin Mall, 2401 Liberty Heights Avenue.

There will also be free blood pressure screenings and insurance information, as well as guest speakers, educational exhibits, entertainment and giveaways.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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