ROCKVILLE, Md. (WDVM) — Montgomery County is one of 47 jurisdictions worldwide and three in Maryland that is aiming to end the AIDs epidemic. On Tuesday, which is World AIDs day, they held a virtual town hall to outline their goals.
“While we have made tremendous progress going from AIDs as a death sentence to having a timeframe for ending the epidemic, it is still a crisis in all too many communities including here in Montgomery County,” said Ronald Johnson, the chair of the HIV subgroup in LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County.
Representatives outlined their goals – in 10 years, they aim to have a 90% reduction in new transmissions. They hope to do so by diagnosing 95% of people living with HIV and to ensure that 95% who are diagnosed should be in care within 30 days.
Emily Brown, the program manager for Ending the HIV Epidemic for Montgomery County, said that about 13% of Montgomery County residents who have HIV have not been diagnosed and thus don’t know their status. She expressed concerns that COVID-19 may have some impact on their diagnoses.
“It really remains to be seen what the impact is going to be on the epidemic. We really don’t know,” she said.
Brown also said that the county has partnered with Maryland to provide some tests that could be delivered for individuals to get tested at home.
Melvin Cauthen, the administrator for HIV and STI services at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said that their goal is to educate, inform and get feedback as well as destigmatize conversations and reduce transmission. He said the fight against AIDs has changed completely since the start of the program over 30 years ago.
“AIDs was very much kind of a short term disease,” Cauthen said. “It has completely changed, and with that change has been a greater focus on folks’ needs other than health.”
Brown said that individuals today who have access to proper healthcare can “expect a full and thriving life.” Johnson is an example of that – he was diagnosed with HIV in 1989.
“Going through all of the stages of this epidemic has been very personal for me, and seeing friends die, including a partner who died as a result of AIDs, and now to the point where we can thrive,’ he said.
These partners are aiming to provide equal access to everyone, regardless of whether or not they want to go to their health center for care. More information can be found on Montgomery County’s website.
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