Not knowing HIV status affects both prevention and treatment – and Oaklanders who have HIV and don’t know it, can unintentionally pass on the virus. They also can’t access life-saving treatments – because they don’t know that they need them.
To address this issue, several local health care providers have made a commitment to focus in on the communities where HIV rates are going up – especially that of young, African-American men who have sex with men.
“I think what has motivated me to try and find out what’s going on is that we’re seeing so many new diagnoses among really young people at Kaiser,” said Sally Slome, an infectious diseases and HIV specialist at the Kaiser Oakland Medical Center since 1998. “We do a really good job at caring for patients who have HIV, but not at preventing HIV.”
“We’re starting a young men’s support group and we’ve had 11 or 12 young men to show up just in the past six months,” Slome continued. “They’re 18-30 years old. They don’t have a primary care doctor and so their doctor isn’t offering them testing.”
A fund established by Kaiser Permanente at the East Bay Community Foundation has just awarded several local organizations funding to support AIDS education, prevention, testing and connections to care. Cal-Pep, the HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County, Lifelong Medical Care, Tri-City Health Center and W.O.R.L.D will each receive a $75,000 one-year grant.
“Community organizations are on the ground working and all these new diagnosis are being made,” Slome said. “I’ve been trying to see what’s going on. When you look at those numbers, how can you not do something?”
Maurice Graham has gone into schools and churches to spread his message of hope in Oakland and overseas.
“I’ve been living with HIV since 1983, since I was 21 and now I’m about to turn 60,” said Graham, who currently sits on the board of several organizations including the East Bay AIDS Walk Organizing Committee and the African-American AIDS Emergency Task Force. The latter has morphed into an organization that is addressing disparity. He encourages folks who know their status to get active.
“The community can come up with a plan together,” he said. “My idea would be to take that plan and go out and look for money instead of just following what funders want us to do.”
For its part, Alameda County Public Health Department is undergoing some restructuring in order to better manage limited resources. It is merging the current HIV/AIDS, AIDS epi/surveillance and STD Units and hiring more staff at the doctoral level. It also is collecting and verifying more data to track where HIV positive individuals are in the continuum of care. In other words, to see who’s tested positive for HIV, who’s gone to the doctor to treat it, who continues to go to the doctor and how long they are able to keep from progressing to AIDS.
These efforts have required different hospitals, testing labs and the county health department to coordinate methods of record keeping. While all labs are required to send information to the county, some were sending paper printouts or floppy disks. Several Kaiser Hospitals also were sharing limited data with the county because of company policies around HIPPAA compliance. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires health care providers to get consent before sharing patient records. Most of these issues have now been resolved.
“We have come so far on our HIV effort in Oakland on our willingness to work together and pull together,” Dillard said. “It’s not always easy. But it’s possible.”
This article is the second in a series of articles created in partnership with HealthyCal.org.
Articles in the series include:
• Dec. 10: HIV/AIDS Rates Still a Problem in Oakland – Part II
• Oakland Activists Invigorated by this years AIDS Conferences
• Are the Most At Risk for HIV/AIDS Lacking Key Support?
About CB Smith-Dahl
CB Smith-Dahl (aka Ms. Smitty B) is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and educator who has always put the community at the center of her work. In 1997, she founded Community Bridge Video. As Oakland Local’s Community Media Manager, she creates new media content for the site. Her work with Oakland Local Academy teaches and engages youth and community members and organizations in useful media skills.