NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — In 2018, Palmetto Community Care (PCC) tested almost 1,700 people for HIV, recording 23 new HIV-positive cases. That number was up from 20 new HIV-positive cases in 2017.
Last year, PCC increased its prevention and education services. The non-profit has expanded its focus on testing, outreach and HIV prevention education to rural areas of Dorchester and Berkeley counties, as well as targeted high-risk communities in Charleston County, the organization said.
Overall in 2018, more than 90 percent of those tested positive for HIV identified as men who have sex with men; 75 percent were under the age of 30; and 56 percent were African-American.
Last year, PCC also added a mobile testing van, made possible by a grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The prevention team has taken the van to nightclubs, community centers, health fairs, special events and more. In the roughly six months the van was on the road last year, the PCC team administered 346 tests.
In addition to providing free, confidential HIV testing, the agency tests for other sexually-transmitted infections.
“There is only one way to know whether you are HIV-positive and that is to get tested and know your status. So, seeing more people get tested in 2018 means our education and outreach efforts are working,” said Adam Weaver, prevention program manager. “Yet it also shows that HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections are still a very real problem in our community. In 2019, we will continue our work to educate the community about safer sex practices and the importance of getting tested.”
PCC also launched a PrEP program in 2018 to help combat rising rates of HIV in the greater Charleston community. Their goal is to make this program and medication free or low cost for participants. The program started in September and, by the end of the year, 27 people were enrolled.
Ideal candidates include individuals who are sexually active, have multiple sexual partners, have sexual partners of unknown HIV status and individuals who are 18 years of age or older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of people who could potentially benefit from PrEP are African-American or Latino.
An estimated 1.1 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV at the end of 2015. Of those people, about 15 percent, or one in seven, did not know they were infected. In the Lowcountry Public Health Region, the latest data as of the end of 2016 indicates that at least 4,606 people are living with HIV/AIDS.
Located at 3547 Meeting Street Rd., PCC offers free, confidential testing for HIV as well as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis at its office. Testing hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and until 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. No appointment is needed. Free condoms are also available.