Since its inception, the nonprofit Nova Salud Inc. has been working to break down financial and social barriers to HIV/AIDS services while fighting to shatter the stigma that surrounds the disease.
The organization, funded by the Virginia State Department of Health, works to improve and strengthen the health and well-being of Latinos and African Americans living in the Northern Virginia community by providing HIV/AIDSs services such as free testing, prevention education, counseling, and medical referrals to treatment centers.
While its focus is primarily in the African American and Latino communities, Nova Salud, also works with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community to provide HIV testing, and access to care for HIV and those living with the disease. “We focus on the Latino and Black community in Virginia because the numbers, nationally and locally, shows that there is a disparity of new HIV infection diagnoses among these races,” said Rod McCoy, program coordinator for Nova Salud. “It is disproportionately impacting African Americans and Latinos, and we have to focus our efforts there.”
According to McCoy, the organization plans to provide HIV testing on June 27 at numerous organizations, centers, and facilities in Northern Virginia, including the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria as well as centers in Arlington. The initiative is being done, in conjunction with National HIV Testing Day, to provide testing services to a large number of African Americans in the area.
The CDC states that gay and bisexual men are more severely affected by HIV than any other group in the United States. Among all gay and bisexual men, African-American gay and bisexual men are disproportionately burdened by the disease. Though they represents approximately 2 percent of the population, in 2013, young gay and bisexual men ages 13 to 24 accounted for 81 percent of the estimated HIV diagnoses.
According to McCoy, the HIV disease isn’t just a “gay disease,” rather, it does not discriminate. In fact, another CDC report shows that one in four people living with the HIV infection in the United States are women. About 23 percent of people living with HIV in the United States were women in 2011. Unfortunately, African-American and Hispanic women make up a large proportion of persons affected by the disease.
A 2010 National HIV Surveillance, from the Virginia State Department of Health reports that by race, there were 38.6 percent of HIV infections among African-Americans in Virginia. When looking at HIV cases each year, 59 percent of newly diagnosed cases were African-Americans. Blacks are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infections than their White counterparts.
Through its prevention approach, Nova Salud is working with local churches, homeless shelters, substance abuse treatment centers, and community-based organizations to lower the rate of minorities in Northern Virginia who are at risk and support those already infected.
“Our preference is to go to the places where our target communities are to provide on-site HIV testing and education,” McCoy told the AFRO.
In Northern Virginia, there aren’t that many agencies that specifically focuses on the Black and Latino community, McCoy noted.
Thus far, when it comes to getting the word out about getting tested, Nova Salud test 200 people monthly. “This month we averaged 800, in terms of outreach and testing,” said McCoy. “The month of June, typically is our most productive month between our activities for gay pride and for National HIV Testing Day, which is every June 27.”
McCoy said that those who get tested can get their results the same day. “Anyone who tests positive for HIV and they’re confirmed positive after the second tests that we administer, our next step is to make sure that they get connected to medical services and or any other services that they need,” McCoy said when asked about the steps Nova Salud takes in providing accessible resources to those tested positive for HIV.
“One of the places we refer people who have tested positive for HIV is Inova Juniper and Whitman Walker Health, if a person prefers to go to D.C. or outside of their neighborhood to get services.”
Nova Salud boasts 99.9 percent accuracy in its HIV screening test with an average of 20 to 30 minute wait period for testing results. The organization also ensures that its client’s record and information are kept confidential, during and after testing.