May 6, 2013
South Texas healthcare and HIV service providers state that adoption of the new U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines for routine HIV testing for all pregnant women and everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 is crucial to stopping the epidemic in the United States. Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Department of State Health Services, reported that one-third of HIV-infected Texans are unaware they have the virus; late diagnosis can result in the development of AIDS.
However, Dr. Ruben Martinez, director of the Westbrook Clinic in Harlingen, emphasized that the development of new medications means that HIV/AIDS no longer has to be a fatal disease. Anti-HIV drugs can return even patients diagnosed with advanced AIDS to undetectable viral loads, and successful treatment decreases the rate of HIV transmission by 96 percent. Martinez reported that the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission was 28 percent before the current generation of HIV drugs were available; treatment of pregnant, HIV-infected women has cut the rate to .5 percent now.
Martinez believed it was possible to stop HIV/AIDS within one generation by identifying HIV-infected people, putting them on HIV medications, and keeping them on their treatment regimen. Oscar Lopez, Valley AIDS Council director of education, recommended free, regular HIV screening to reduce the HIV epidemic in the United States.
The Westbrook Clinic in Harlingen gives free HIV and STD tests from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Harlingen clinic also provides HIV treatment and assistance with locating funding for medications and treatment. Westbrook Clinic locations in McAllen and Brownsville offer HIV and STD testing, but no services. Individuals may call the Valley AIDS Council at (956) 4282653 for additional information.