Ending AIDS in South Florida's Black Communities

Black Treatment Advocates Network

Local and National Leaders Launch the Black Treatment Advocates Network, a New Public-Private Partnership to Fight AIDS in Miami/Dade and Broward Counties

South Florida AIDS activists and local health department officials hosted five events in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami between August 6th and 10th to bring the latest HIV research, testing and treatment information to local neighborhoods.

The coalition of non-profit organizations, in partnership with the Black AIDS Institute and Merck & Co., included the Florida State office of AIDS, the South Beach AIDS Project (SOBAP), Empower "U," Inc., and CECOSIDA. The group launched the Black Treatment Advocates Network (BTAN) with the objective of bringing to South Florida information from the recently concluded AIDS2012 Conference in Washington, D.C., which brought together AIDS researchers and advocates from around the world.

"Being at AIDS2012 was a momentous occasion, and being able to bring it back to our neighborhood – one of the most impacted communities in the country – is essential," said Charles Martin, executive director of SOBAP. "I am proud to work with the Black AIDS Institute to make this happen."

Approximately 125,000 people in Florida, roughly 11.7 percent of the national total, currently live with HIV infection. Florida ranks number one among states in the number of cases of HIV infection reported in 2010, according to the 2011 Florida Department of Health Annual Report. Miami-Dade County reported the highest number of HIV cases and the greatest number of new AIDS cases in the entire state. Broward County (which includes Fort Lauderdale) currently ranks number two in the nation for cases of people infected by HIV, logging the second highest number of new AIDS cases per capita in the United States.

"The Black AIDS Institute is proud to help bring BTAN to South Florida," said Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. "What's important about BTAN is that all the stakeholders are at the table—elected officials, health departments, AIDS service organizations, community and faith-based institutions, private industry, and people living with HIV. We all have a role to play. And, if we work together decisively and boldly, we can end AIDS in South Florida."

Starting the week of activities on Monday, August 6, New Mount Olive Ministry Center in Fort Lauderdale hosted a post-AIDS 2012 Update, which included a screening of the new PBS Frontline documentary, "Endgame," followed by a community discussion led by Wilson and a panel of local and state experts including Juliette Love, Broward County Community Representative for the Florida Prevention Planning Group; Ronald Henderson, Statewide Minority AIDS Coordinator for the Florida Department of Health; Charles Martin, CEO SOBAP; Karen Creary, Chair of the Broward County Black AIDS Advisory Group; and Dr. Kimberly Holding, Infectious Disease Specialist, Children's Diagnostic and Treatment Center.

At a press conference held on Tuesday, August 7, at the African American Cultural Center in Liberty City, Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Gongora welcomed BTAN and saluted the hard work of SOBAP and Empower "U", Inc. Other speakers at the press conference included Wilson; Evelyn Ullah, STD/HIV Prevention Director, Broward County Health Department; Ketty Ledan, Early Intervention Consultant Miami-Dade County Health Department; Charles Martin, CEO of SOBAP; and Vanessa Mills, President and CEO of Empower "U," Inc.

"These might be the best of times, but they are still the worst of times here in Liberty City," said Mills. "See that young man over there?" she said, pointing to a teenage boy in a blue shirt. "About fifteen years ago, they thought he was going to be an orphan. His mother had AIDS and they thought she was going to die. He is seventeen years old now and I'm his mother. I'm alive today because I'm on treatment."

Later Tuesday evening, CECOSIDA hosted a post AIDS 2012 Update and reception with a screening of "Endgame," followed by a panel discussion with Roosevelt Jean-Francois, Executive Director for CECOSIDA, Mills, Martin, Ledan, and Wilson.

"HIV/AIDS is personal because we got it one person at a time, but the entire human race is affected and we should have a global community mind to face it," said Jean-Francois, whose organization is joining BTAN as an extended reach to Haiti. "We wanted to understand the science and the new trends in treatment and see how they can be applied locally to be a part of this national and global movement. We want to copy BTAN and do it back home as a Haitian Treatment Advocacy Network. My hope is that we can be active to end the epidemic. That's my hope."

The week culminated with a three day BTAN training at the Dade County Health department in Doral, Florida, to strengthen local healthcare infrastructure with the newest tools regarding testing and treatment options, as well as to provide information about new resources to support people living with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones.

"I felt bad on my first day of the BTAN training because I'm living with something that I really didn't understand, said Creary, who is a clinical care consultant at Children's Diagnostic Treatment Center in Broward County. _"_I've been positive for 30 years. I don't like to be misinformed, so what better way to be involved than to join BTAN to get better information?" she said. "BTAN keeps your attention and intensifies your desire to get the information, and it's fun. We're a family. The support is there. It's not that I'm getting trained and then the trainer drops you because they don't care what you do with the information. It was clear from the beginning that this will be a process and we'll be supported. We will receive technical assistance so that we can do well. Lots of training opportunities don't do that."

With support from the pharmaceutical company, Merck & Co., Inc., BTAN works in many cities in the U.S., partnering with local stakeholders, government and private industry to raise knowledge and understanding about HIV science and treatment, underscore the urgency of access to the newest testing methods and treatments, and build resources and infrastructure to end the AIDS epidemic in Black communities.