According to a study by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH), Black and African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the general population but account for more than 49 percent of newly reported HIV/AIDS cases compared to Whites and Hispanics.
“While we’ve made a lot of progress with reducing new HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections and having tremendous advances with the ways that we can treat people with HIV, we still see incredible disparities and inequities with regards to who’s getting HIV — disproportionately, Black and African American members of our community,” stated Dr. Sonali Kulkarni, medical director at the Division of HIV and STD Programs at DPH.
Kulkarni, a public health leader focused on reducing HIV and STD health inequities, is currently the Principal Investigator (PI) on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant to increase awareness about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in communities at highest risk of HIV and ensure access to those who need it.
“The rate for Black men is about six or seven times higher than other communities”, she continued. “Black women even higher. [So] any partnerships you may have pose an even higher risk of HIV acquisition.”
“Here’s the bread-and-butter of it: Decide who and how you want to partner with and get tested for HIV regularly so that you and your partner have a good, clean bill of health. We also have medical tools called biomedical prevention tools, which are HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis. These things are [Federal Drug Administration]-approved and are very safe and effective,” she added.
The study also cites that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea are primarily transmitted through sexual contact. A person can contract them through anal, vaginal, oral, or manual sexual intercourse. STI testing can help a person find out if they have an infection.
DPH runs several clinics across LA County but also works with community-based clinics like community health centers to make sure they can do it as part of their urgent care.
“Particularly in South LA,” noted Kulkarni, “our public health clinics are [Curtis R.] Tucker Health Center in downtown Inglewood, [Ruth] Temple Public Health Center, MLK [Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health], and APLA [Health and Wellness Center] on La Brea Ave in Baldwin Hills.”
And finally, on the misinformation she continues to hear from her patients concerning HIV and sexually transmitted disease [STD]: “I want folks to know that there are places to go where they can feel more comfortable with less stigma and feel more ready to talk about these issues and not judge anybody’s sexual behavior.”
“I trained in internal medicine, but always wanted to work on population health. HIV and STDs became something I was interested in just because of how it affects certain populations. I wanted to reduce those disparities”, she said.
World AIDS Day is observed on December 1 each year. It is a day of solidarity for people around the world who are affected by HIV. This year marks the 35th commemoration of this important day. The California Department of Public Health encourages people to learn more, know their status, and, if necessary, access free life-saving medications and services.
Visit getprotectedla.com to locate HIV testing, services, and resources.