Franklin County sees 200 new cases of HIV every year.
And locally we are leading the state in the number of gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Experts say the numbers are growing across central Ohio.
Advertisement – Story continues below
As a result, new help and new services are being offered in new communities.
Randle Moore was just 17 years old when he was diagnosed with HIV.
“I remember the tester telling me I was positive and then rambled on some information that I knew nothing about and then sent me on my way.”
He calls hearing those words at 17 “Devastating. Life changing.”
He had a diagnosis, a medical referral and a prescription, and not a clue what to do next.
Paralyzed by shame and fear, he didn’t tell his family. He didn’t take his medication. And he nearly lost his life.
“I got very very sick. At one point I lost my vision. I was in the hospital for about 6 months. There was a fungus that had grew on my brain.”
Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika Roberts says that same fear and stigma is killing people
“This is something people don’t want to talk about. They’re reluctant to share their status, even if they know their status, they feel ashamed,” Roberts said.
And with recent medical advances- those deaths are preventable.
“We’ve got a pill that someone can take once a day to prevent HIV. So they can have sex, especially if they’re in a high-risk relationship and not get HIV. That’s huge. That’s advancement. That’s what we’ve all wanted. And now we have it. It’s available, it’s affordable, it’s covered by most insurances,” Roberts said.
Randle is part of a new Columbus Public Health education campaign rolling out this week.
Roberts says it’s information that could save lives.
“Testing- knowing your status. PrEP- if you are HIV negative, getting on PrEP to prevent HIV, and treatment- if you find out you are HIV positive, making sure you’re in treatment.”
For many years, Columbus Public Health has provided testing, prevention and treatment services through the federal Ryan White program. Now, CPH is partnering with, and expanding those programs to 7 central Ohio counties: Delaware, Licking, Fairfield, Madison, Morrow, Pickaway, and Union.
Roberts says the expansion is based on an increase in HIV cases in those counties.
“The government felt the need to provide more services to those communities.”
Today Randle is successfully in treatment- a single pill a day keeps his HIV levels undetectable.
He knows there are many in the same dark place he was a decade ago.
“In 2018 and the first couple of months of 2019, I’ve been to 7 funerals,” he said. “Unfortunately people who look just like me are still dying, thanks to stigma. And it takes a small piece of my heart every single time because these are people who I know. And it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Information on testing, prevention and treatment services: https://www.columbus.gov/knowhiv/.