BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and HealthyBR announced improvements concerning HIV/AIDS cases in Baton Rouge on Monday, Nov. 25.
During a press conference at the Our Lady of the Lake North Clinic, Broome said the Capital City dropped in the ranking to number 10, making significant advances in testing. In 2016, Baton Rouge was first in the nation for AIDS diagnosis rates.
Experts with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) say that’s one of the lowest numbers in the state since the epidemic began in the 1980s.
The mayor says the greatest challenge was addressing the stigma. We should be talking about HIV/AIDS because it could encourage people with the disease to come forward for help and potentially break a decades-old cycle. The mayor says she thinks avoiding that conversation had the Capital City at that number one ranking in 2016.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Baton Rouge now has a “significantly lower” ranking among cities for HIV and AIDS diagnosis rates.
“We’re looking at one of the lowest numbers of new HIV diagnoses in our state since the epidemic began in the 1980s," said Sam Burgess, director of STD/HIV program for LDH.
Scott Wester, CEO of Our Lady of the Lake, said during the press conference that the CDC told them increasing tests would help them accomplish the goal of lowering the rate.
That’s when leaders implemented the Op-Out Testing program through several local hospitals. The city credits this program for the improvement.
“If you come into any of our emergency rooms, you will be getting an HIV test unless you decide not to,” Wester said.
Woman’s Hospital and Oschner Health System are also participating.
Regular testing is reducing the rates of AIDS diagnoses in Baton Rouge, the mayor says.
Experts say at first, testing increased the HIV diagnosis rate because people finally knew their status, but experts say once diagnosed, patients are more likely to get treatment and that’s a big reason why AIDS diagnosis rates have been cut nearly in half.
City leaders say a grant from the CDC has allowed them for the first time to have a full-time person focused on moving this initiative forward.