World AIDS Day: Rapid Tests at LGBTQ Center
By Dianne Anderson
It’s one thing to be Black, Latinx or a woman trying to seek adequate healthcare for any problem, and it’s another to be any of those in addition to being gay and trying to get around biases built into the medical system.
Wiley Phillips, an epidemiologist at the LGBTQ center, finds it a bitter pill to take when she goes to the doctor, and they ask about her husband, but her partner is female.
She believes individuals end up delaying health care because they’re scared or uncomfortable going into providers’ offices.
“That’s more true for the already marginalized community of LGBTQ, the pockets or subpockets being blatantly discriminated against or feeling the impact of exclusion. It’s certainly a massive issue,” said Phillips, MPH and manager of health services at the center.
Another frequently ignored big issue is the impact of HIV/AIDS on straight women, who represent 19% of new diagnoses worldwide, mostly attributed to heterosexual sex.
But in America, Black women continue to experience the brunt of new cases among women.
“Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV as compared to women of other races/ethnicities. Although annual HIV infections remained stable overall among Black women from 2015 to 2019, the rate of new HIV infections among Black women is 11 times that of white women and four times that of Latina women,” the CDC reports.
In all for 2019, 26% of new HIV infections were among Black gay and bisexual men, 23% among Latino gay and bisexual men, and 45% among gay and bisexual men under the age of 35.
California Department of Public Health has some good news. From 2010 to 2020 the overall rate of new HIV diagnoses decreased by 37% among Black/African Americans 55% in the rate of new HIV diagnoses among Blacks 45-54 years old and a 15% decline in the rate of new HIV diagnoses among Black men 25-34 years old.
But the bad news is that for Black women, during that same time, it’s up 21% in the rate of new HIV diagnoses among Black women 13-24 years old.
Not helping matters, testing decreased through the pandemic as other diseases emerged. While the situation is better than even ten years ago, health providers stress that antiretroviral drugs only work when people actually take them.
Phillips said their clinic is pushing to get more people in the door. In conjunction with World AIDS Day, she is working with the Long Beach Health Department for a health fair. They are planning a walk at her clinic that day, shuttling people back and forth to resources.
To her understanding, the clinic also experienced a decrease in walk-ins during the pandemic, which primarily was testing with Rapid HIV tests. They implemented precautions at that time, but they also experienced staffing shortages.
“Ultimately, [it] led us to not having the capacity to have walk-in and regularly booked appointments, which is something we’re trying to get back to. The pandemic was a large barrier in getting people tested,” she said.
Rapid testing results are available within 60 seconds and she is trying to get the word out to the community that it is very accurate. They also have different options, including a more extensive panel, available for those who prefer more conventional tests.
Those tests would be great to have at home, but she said that approach could hinder accurate documentation. HIV/AIDS is an infectious disease, and the CDC and FDA want to monitor cases within communities to determine the rate of spread.
To determine an accurate representation of infection in the Long Beach community, she said one of their grants requires that they meet specific qualifications throughout the year, which is to report at least 1% of infectivity for HIV.
It’s not that they want to see 1% infections, but she said they must get as many rapid tests out into the community as possible to pull back real numbers.
“Some might think isn’t it good to have a lower HIV infectivity rate? We know that’s just not the reality with our population. We know with Long Beach there is a high population of people living with HIV,” she said, which lately includes a large population of Latinx men.
With the holidays coming up, testing is expected to be busier than usual, the same as the weeks following LGBT Pride. The center is located at 2017 East 4th Street in Long Beach.
“I would imagine that the holidays would be a time when people are more conscious of their status, and hope that it’s an initiative to get people in the door,” she said. “We want to help everybody and provide any service we can to provide prevention treatment, education, or everything in between.”
Earlier this year, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland released a statement of concerns regarding the rate of new Black infections, and new diagnoses. As of 2018, despite comprising just 13 percent of America’s population, African Americans represented 42 percent of all people living with HIV.
“After 40 years of combating this disease, we know that we cannot end this epidemic without addressing the racial injustice that prevents Black communities from receiving the medical care they deserve. I am proud to reintroduce this important resolution to increase awareness, spark conversations, highlight the work to reduce HIV in Black or African American communities, and show support for people with and vulnerable to HIV in these communities,” she said.
For more information on services and testing, see https://www.centerlb.org/ or call (562) 434-4455
To see the Jama study of Black Women and HIV Prevention,