Fair to fight HIV/AIDS in BR

The first step in wiping out AIDS deaths in Louisiana is for people to know their HIV status, and LSU health officials say they plan to help them do that Friday through a community outreach effort.

Health officials with the LSU Mid City Clinic are holding a health fair Friday, a day in advance of what is officially designated as World AIDS Day, and will also be dedicating a live oak tree near the North Foster Drive clinic in recognition of the worldwide health event.

Health officials fighting AIDS and HIV in Louisiana and Baton Rouge have their work cut out for them. The Baton Rouge metro area ranked first in the nation in 2010 in the rate of AIDS cases per 100,000 population, according to state Department of Health and Hospitals data.

In 2011, 1,300 new HIV cases and 795 new AIDS cases were diagnosed in Louisiana, according to DHH data. Twenty-five percent, or 319, of the new HIV cases and 29 percent, or 227, of the new AIDS cases diagnosed in Louisiana came from the Baton Rouge metro area, according to the same DHH data.

Overall, 4,888 people are currently living with HIV/AIDS in metro Baton Rouge, DHH says.

Dr. Tatiana Saavedra, one of five LSU Mid City Clinic physicians who work at LSU’s Early Intervention Clinic, said the Baton Rouge numbers are alarming and that’s why Friday’s awareness event and health fair is important.

“People are out there and they don’t know they are infected. That has to change,” Saavedra said.

Friday’s health fair, which starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., will feature more than 30 community and government agencies, health-care providers and local businesses, according to an LSU news release.

The fair will offer free HIV testing as well as free glucose level, blood pressure, cholesterol and syphilis testing. The event will also feature gift card raffles and a raffle for a 40-inch high-definition television set.

The fair’s theme this year is Zero Takes a Community, which refers to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination for peoplewith HIV/AIDS and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Saavedra said there is still a stigma attached to the disease and that impedes progress.

LSU Health’s active HIV/AIDS patient census, or the number of patients the LSU health system is treating, is currently about 1,450, according to the release. The LSU clinic is a multidisciplinary facility that provides medical and social work services to those with HIV/AIDS.

The live oak tree near the clinic, beside a bus stop at the intersection of North Foster Drive and Gus Young Avenue, will be dedicated during a ceremony at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Saavedra said the oak tree is symbolic.

“The tree, which is beautiful, is strong and firm and represents LSU’s years-long fight to prevent HIV/AIDS,” Saavedra said.