Optimist July 2013

In the Spotlight: New STD Services at APLA Health & Wellness Center

In mid-April, in partnership with the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, APLA began providing free sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening and treatment at our APLA Health & Wellness Center in Baldwin Hills. Headed by Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, one of the nation’s leading physicians and researchers on sexually transmitted diseases and gay men, these new STD services are funded by our generous donors and a small grant from the County of Los Angeles Division of HIV and STD Programs. This new sexual health program complements the HIV testing and HIV prevention programs that we have been providing at our Center since 2011.

The response from the community has been very strong; in just two and a half months we have screened almost 250 individuals (including 125 in June alone) and tested over 300 for HIV. As Vallerie Wagner, Chief Operating Officer of APLA Health & Wellness notes, “APLA has a long history of providing HIV prevention and education services to gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals of color. With the opening of the APLA Health & Wellness Center in the heart of the Baldwin Hills community, we have been able to add STD screenings and treatment to our HIV prevention and testing services.”

What’s the link between STDs and HIV infection? Individuals who are infected with STDs are at least two to five times more likely than uninfected individuals to acquire HIV infection if they are exposed to the virus through sexual contact. In addition, if an HIV positive individual has an STD, that person is more likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact.

We opened the APLA Health & Wellness Center in Baldwin Hills in 2011 to address the alarming impact that HIV continues to have in communities of color, particularly among African American gay and bisexual men. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that African Americans make up 14% of the US population but account for almost half of those living with HIV/AIDS. In the United States, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. MSM represent approximately 2% of the US population, but accounted for more than half of all estimated new HIV infections. Among MSM, black/African American MSM—especially young black/African American MSM—are at highest risk of HIV.

“Before we opened the APLA Health & Wellness Center, we did our due diligence to make sure that the proposed services would meet the needs of the community and as we approach two years of being ‘in the community,’ the response has been overwhelmingly positive.” said Wagner.

In addition to STD screening and treatment and HIV counseling and testing, the APLA Health & Wellness Center provides a broad range of HIV education, outreach and prevention programs targeting black gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals. At APLA we strongly believe that to effectively fight the HIV epidemic in the African American community we need to address numerous issues including racism, homophobia, poverty and unequal access to healthcare services, including STD testing and treatment. That’s why our APLA Health & Wellness Center includes both clinical services and social support and educational programs—so that we can meet the needs of the whole individual.

We feel that it’s critical to address the whole person in our HIV prevention and education work. We are working with human beings, not vectors of disease, and we do our best to assist our clients in dealing with the issues in their lives that place them at increased risk of HIV/STD acquisition or transmission.

We couldn’t do any of this critical work without your generous support. Thank you so much for working with APLA Health & Wellness to turn the tide on HIV infection rates among black gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles.

More information on HIV and its disproportionate impact on black gay and bisexual men is available from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/risk_HIV_among_Black_AA_Gay.pdf.