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There's A New Hotline For STD Questions, Resources In Broward

The impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic on the HIV/AIDS epidemic are not fully known yet, according to AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation partnered with 2-1-1 Broward to start a 24-hour STD information hotline. It opened on World AIDS Day.

Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day each year. A reminder to support people living with HIV/AIDS and to unite in a global response, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC currently estimates that 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States and an estimated 37 million worldwide.

This year in South Florida, a region with high rates of new HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted disease cases, there's a new tool that's opened for anyone to turn to for resources for HIV/AIDS as well as any other STD: A 24-hour hotline for visitors and residents.

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The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) partnered with the call center 2-1-1 Broward to start the STD hotline: 855-NOW THAT or 855-669-8428.

The hotline gives people a place to ask questions anonymously, find locations and get additional information about testing and treatment for HIV and other STDs and sexually-transmitted infections.

"They will be able to ask a lot of different questions — not just where I get tested, but more about education, our pharmaceutical services and the ability to go to a health care center and have wraparound services — regardless of the ability to pay," said Ebonni Chrispin, the legislative affairs and community engagement manager at AHF.

South Florida has one of the nation’s highest rates of new HIV diagnoses in the country.

In 2019, there were approximately 134,900 people living with HIV in Florida, 116,689 of whom were diagnosed. HIV was the ninth leading cause of death, having claimed 644 lives, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The DOH's 2019 data puts the number of new HIV diagnoses at about 42 new diagnoses of the virus for every 100,000 people in Miami-Dade County, and about 32 new diagnoses of the virus for every 100,000 people in Broward County.

Chrispin said it's critical that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is still actively addressed while the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on.

"AIDS and HIV continue to take place alongside COVID," Chrispin said. "We may see an uptick actually in numbers because people may not be thinking about it as much — they may not be considering getting tested after they introduce a new sexual partner. There just can be so much else going on that takes priority. That was already a problem before we realized what [COVID-19] was going to do to our country and to our world."

In a letter offering treatment guidance for STDs during the time of COVID-19, doctors at the CDC explained some of the consequences that the coronavirus has already had on HIV/AIDS and other STD screening centers: "Many health care settings have expanded phone triage and telehealth services, and some clinics that provide STD services have had to temporarily close."

In a November 2020 letter HIV.gov warned: "The lockdowns and border closures imposed to stop COVID-19 are impacting both the production of antiretroviral medicines and their distribution, potentially leading to increases in their cost and to supply issues."

While AHF and 2-1-1 Broward launched the local hotline on World AIDS Day Tuesday, they are also marketing the resource to Black and Hispanic communities — beyond the day of commemorating those people still living with the disease.

"We need to continue to to make sure that we have a handle on meeting people where they are, not just in terms of language from a literal sense, but also sort of cultural nomenclature, how people interact, what they believe in, how they interact with each other," Chrispin said.