When I was training as a surgeon, HIV and AIDS had just come on the scene. I remember the widespread fear – not only in the public — but throughout the medical and particularly the surgical community.
Fear replaced reason and was a barrier to care for patients with HIV/AIDS. It was important to me to learn and understand HIV/AIDS so that I could provide safe surgical care and when a patient with HIV/AIDS needed an operation
I went to the operating room. I’ve seen HIV/AIDS at its worst and at its peak, and we’ve come a long way. Still, there is more work to be done.
Through advancement in medicine and technology, we have turned a corner on HIV/AIDS over the last 20 years, but with progress can come complacency. Some have forgotten how HIV/AIDS ravaged at-risk populations in the 80s and 90s – but I have not.
As Florida’s State Surgeon General and Secretary of the Department of Health, I assure you we are fully committed to eliminating HIV/AIDS in Florida. This is a big goal that requires the connectivity of community thought leaders.
We know that health is very personal and the Department of Health is here to serve as the connection between Floridians and the resources they need to stay healthy and lead a long life. Florida has developed one of the nation’s most comprehensive HIV/AIDS programs that addresses surveillance, education, prevention, counseling, testing, care and treatment. We’re investing record funding in HIV/AIDS prevention and are especially focused on targeted outreach.
Through targeted outreach, the Department of Health brings together community partners to reach high-risk populations for education and testing. We’ve mobilized comprehensive and dynamic resources — such as our mobile health units that go into neighborhoods to talk about prevention and provide testing and counseling. We also sponsored the “Faces of HIV” traveling art exhibit that has brought this issue to life in many of Florida’s counties. By continuing to raise awareness, we can help educate a new generation about HIV/AIDS.
When we began our celebration of 125 Years of Public Health in Florida, I started by visiting the AIDS Memorial in Key West. This was an important place to start a year of reflection of how far we’ve come with public health, but it was also a time to renew our commitment to ensuring we move forward and not back.
As I’ve always said, public health is local. Florida is a dynamic state where no two communities are exactly alike. That is why we do not focus on a “one size fits all” solution, but rather a community-centered approach to tackle tough public health issues such as HIV/AIDS. Working together, we can ensure we continue to fight this horrible disease.
John H. Armstrong, MD, FACS, is Florida’s Surgeon General and Secretary of the Department of Health. Column courtesy of Context Florida.