The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services hosted its first Pride in the Plaza event in honor of Pride Month and National HIV Testing Day.
The outdoor resource fair offered free entertainment, on-site HIV testing and prevention education and information from organizations serving LGBTQ communities. Some of these included Trans Maryland, Tree of Hope Association, Loyalty Bookstores and Planned Parenthood.
County health officials also launched a new sexual health campaign called “Do it for Montgomery County.” The goal is to eradicate HIV in the county by 2030. The new campaign is also part of the DHHS Plan to End HIV created to expand efforts in diagnosing, treating, preventing and responding to outbreaks of HIV in the county.
“We’re looking to meet people where they are and address the needs that they’re looking to be addressed in addition to being tested, in addition to HIV care.” said The DHHS Administrator of HIV Services and Public Health Services Melvin Cauthen.
Cauthen believes the new campaign will help replace the “one size fits all public health approach” with more equitable HIV care that is community-focused and breaks down barriers.
“Let’s work with the leaders in those communities as opposed to the health department being on the high hill saying we are all knowing. This is how it’s done,” Cauthen said.
Since the first cases of HIV in the United States four decades ago, the epidemic has remained an ongoing problem in the country. Cauthen’s own experience with HIV and losing close friends because of the lack of available treatment motivated him to push for improved HIV care.
“Every single day that I work, I look to provide the services that my friends were unfortunate not able to get,” said Cauthen.
In Montgomery County alone, there are close to 4,000 people living with HIV. One in seven people with HIV in the county don’t know they have it. One-third are diagnosed late which often results in a subsequent late-stage HIV diagnosis known as AIDS.
“One of the initiatives we are really trying to work on is diagnosing people really early right after they contract HIV ideally so that we can start them on treatment, and they can avoid complications of a depleted immune system,” said the Ending HIV Program Manager Emily Brown.
Those interested in getting tested for HIV can go to Montgomery County HIV/STI Testing Treatment and Prevention located at 2000 Dennis Avenue Silver Spring, MD 20902. The Dennis Avenue Health Center serves people with significant barriers who are marginalized from the mainstream healthcare system.
Anyone without insurance and in need of free or low-cost HIV care can also receive services through the Ryan White’s HIV/AIDS Program.