Community organizations form Zero Pinellas initiative to combat HIV

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ST. PETERSBURG | Seven community organizations have partnered to form Zero Pinellas, an initiative granted $2,207,694 over three years to reduce new HIV infections in Pinellas County by at least 50 percent.

The participating organizations—the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, The AIDS Institute, BayCare, Empath Health and EPIC, the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County and Metro Wellness and Community Centers—were granted the funds by the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. The private foundation uses its funds to support health equity countywide.

“These organizations applied to the Foundation seeking ways to partner to stop Tampa Bay from HIV infection rates higher than many places in the nation; and disproportionately higher in young people, poorer people and people of color,” the foundation’s president and CEO Randall H. Russell released in a statement. “We are so fortunate to have these courageous and wise leaders who came together to improve and change systems in Pinellas so that new HIV infections continue to diminish over time.”

The Florida Health Department’s 2016 HIV Care Continuum estimates that 4,594 people are living with HIV in Pinellas County. The report found that 3,366 of those are taking antiretroviral medication, 3,025 people had the virus suppressed and 174 people were newly infected.

“Zero Pinellas is a partnership with seven different organizations who are all coming together to serve the existing HIV community as well as those who are considered to be at high risk for contracting HIV,” Zero Pinellas Project Facilitator and Empath Health’s vice president of innovation and community health Stacy F. Orloff says.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce the rate of new HIV infections in Pinellas County by 50 percent,” she notes. “We feel confident that the strategies that we’ve put together should allow us to be successful.” Orloff says funding began in mid-June, noting that the initiative is now moving forward.

Zero Pinellas will utilize a 90-90-90-50 cascade model to achieve its goal. It aims for 90 percent of those living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent to seek treatment and 90 percent to have suppressed viral loads, resulting in the 50 percent reduction of new HIV infections.

“This has not been done in our area before now,” Metro Wellness and Community Centers Director of Health Initiatives Rebecca Nessen says of the collaboration. “It’s very exciting to have all of the partnering agencies come together to elevate the community’s response to HIV.

“Each partner brings their own expertise and experience to the project itself,” Nessen continues. “Each agency is taking a piece of the project that they will focus on and bring to the table.”

“I think it’s important for the community to understand that although we may have and may again in the future compete against each other for federal funding, this has been a very collaborative process,” Orloff says. “The more we work together on a collaborative basis, and really create a greater opportunity to serve, the better.”

“Every community is different, every geographical location has its own culture and problems or barriers,” Nessen adds. “We’re excited to have the flexibility to create a project that will meet the unique needs of Pinellas County.”

For more information about Zero Pinellas, visit zeropinellas.org or email Project Coordinator Shaquira Robinson at shaquirarobinson@empathhealth.org.

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