Dallas County turns to universal HIV testing to lower rates of new infections
COVID-19 gets far more media attention, but HIV remains a major problem in Dallas County. KERA’s Sam Baker talked with Dr. Amneris Luque, a professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and the medical director of Parkland Hospital’s HIV program, about the decision to offer Universal HIV testing.
What is universal HIV testing?
Offering everybody that comes to a Parkland clinic an HIV test, along with the other blood work that they may be having. We are trying to eliminate all of the barriers to HIV testing.
This is part of the National HIV AIDS strategy to decrease the new infections. We know that many of the new infections are coming from people that do not know they have HIV.
Why Dallas County in particular?
Dallas County is one of these jurisdictions with the most new HIV infections. But within that, there are indeed certain areas where there are more cases.
Parkland Hospital, along with the Dallas County Health and Human Services, undertook the Community Health Needs Assessment in 2019, and they determined there are indeed zip codes, mostly in the southern part of Dallas, where we need to do whatever we can to help eliminate this fight.
Health disparities in southern Dallas County.
Minorities usually are really bearing the brunt of the epidemic. More Afro-Americans and Hispanics are getting infected and also individuals that have other social determinants of poor health, including, you know, poor education, employment income.
What are blacks and Latinos in those areas not getting that they should?
I think that when the educational attainment is lower, that individual may not perceive themselves as being at risk for HIV just because of not understanding exactly how it gets transmitted, not having the education that goes along with that.
How do you improve access to education about HIV?
I think ideally sexual education should be provided, whether it's in the schools and that we know is controversial in some areas or in the home. But it's quite important to make sure that everybody understands the risks and how to seek help when they think they have been exposed, whether it is to HIV or another sexually transmitted infection.
Beyond testing, what more can be done to battle HIV?
Testing is really the beginning. If the individual doesn't have HIV, there is a great opportunity for prevention through education and also offering them what we know works now for people at high risk. The pre-exposure prophylaxis medication that they can take to prevent getting HIV.
Those who are HIV infected will be linked to care to receive antiretroviral medications to restore or maintain their health. This is quite important because we also know that treatment is prevention. Somebody who takes medications for HIV and has the virus suppressed is not going to be transmitting HIV to another person via sex.
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How universal does universal test and treat have to be?
Parkland Hospital offering free universal HIV screenings at community clinics