Even after World AIDS Day passed, Temple Hospital health care professionals continue their year-round efforts to help address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Philadelphia.
Director of TUH’s Comprehensive HIV Program Dr. Ellen Tedaldi and her team have been working on HIV awareness and prevention in the community for the last three years in hopes of reducing the community’s “viral load,” the severity or concentration of HIV in a group or in an individual’s blood.
“Generally, the goal in treating a patient with HIV is that we want to get the viral load down to what we call an undetectable level,” Tedaldi said. “The model being promulgated is that if you treat and identify enough individuals you can affect the [viral load] at the community level.”
To accomplish this, Princess Graham, the Comprehensive HIV Program coordinator, and Tedaldi and her team have been connecting with the community via schools, health centers and churches across Philadelphia to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and encourage community members to get tested.
In 2008, the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office and Philadelphia Department of Public Health reported estimates that placed the HIV infection rate in Philadelphia “at 114 infections for every 100,000 population, five times the rate of the national population which is 23 infections per 100,000.”
The health care professionals have encountered some roadblocks during their community outreach.
“The hurdles we’ve came across regarding testing is that there is still a lot of stigma with certain groups of individuals,” Graham said. “Sometimes, patients who do get tested as positive don’t go back to get treatment.”
She said this is why the group is trying to provide realistic information about HIV prevention, as well as promote testing.
The group has been using community events to provide free testing. Tedaldi said the Comprehensive HIV Program had an event on World AIDS Day, which consisted of free testing, tabling by community resources and multiple community agencies. More than 30 people were tested. Tedaldi said she thought there could have been more had it not been for the heavy rain.
“Community days offer to do all sorts of other testing, usually with the idea that you can provide confidential space,” Tedaldi said. “If we offer HIV testing, we are then able to help those who test positive with getting resources, or hook them up with medical services.”
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.