Orlando, Fla. - Bob Poe, a Democratic candidate for Florida's 10th Congressional district, on Friday convened a roundtable on how to combat HIV and the stigma that prevents at-risk Central Florida communities from getting tested and treated.
The 10th Congressional District includes Apopka and Northwest Orange County.
Dr. Marie-Jose Francois of the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention hosted the roundtable. More than a dozen attendees from around Orlando and Central Florida participated, including people living with HIV, representatives from social services agencies, and community leaders.
Attendees identified the lack of HIV education aimed at young people as a key reason new HIV diagnoses are on the rise, and discussed specific ideas to boost outreach to youth communities.
"People don't talk about HIV because of the fear, the shame, and the stigma," said Bob Poe. "And it keeps people from actually getting diagnosed in the first place, and treated. But there's stigma about many things in life, like poverty and unemployment, too. So we're here to figure out what to do, how to do it, and how to make a difference."
"We're not talking about politics now - we're in the HIV arena," said Dr. Marie-Jose Francois. "We know education is very, very important. We know HIV is manageable, but what about the young people who don't know their status? We're living in 2016, and there's a real complacency about HIV. Until there's a vaccine, education is the only tool we have."
"It's insane that we have the HIV rate that we have right now," said one participant. "Part of the reason is that there are so few people open about their status. People have this bizarre idea about what people with HIV are like. They're like everyone at this table. We're just like everybody else. But 18, 19, and 20 year-olds aren't speaking out about it."