ORLANDO, Fla. — Friday is World Aids Day, an annual reminder of the struggles to end HIV-related stigmas while also honoring the lives lost to the illness and continuing the work toward finding a cure.

The day holds great significance to local organization leaders, as numbers in Central Florida have remained at a steady high in recent years.

What You Need To Know

  • World Aids Day is observed on Dec. 1, and many local organizations likes The Center are encouraging people to use the day as an opportunity to educate themselves and learn their status

  • Orlando was ranked top five in the country for HIV cases, and in 2021, research showed that the average number of people living with HIV in Orlando exceeds the average number of people in the state of Florida and is nearly double the national average

  • The Center is one of many places in Orlando that offers free confidential testing, seven days a week

Research has shown that the rate of people living with HIV in Central Florida is not only higher than the state of Florida’s average, but that it almost doubles the national average.

In 2021, Aidsvu.org reported more than 14,000 people were living with HIV in the Orlando area, and more than 600 people were newly diagnosed that year. 

Researchers say most transmissions were through unprotected sex, while a smaller group was through injection drug use.

“HIV is a problem that’s not going to go away,” said Andres Acosta Ardila, with Pineapple Healthcare. “So, it’s very important for people to know their status, because that is literally the best thing you can do as a person to affect the outcome of the epidemic; is to know your status. So you should be getting tested regularly.”

Ardila said there is hope when it comes to protecting yourself from HIV and treating it if you have been diagnosed. The Center in Orlando is just one of many places that offers free daily confidential testing seven days a week. Officials say it’s one step to help keep the LGBTQ+ community safe and keep HIV from spreading. 

In June 2022, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area ranked top five in the country for HIV diagnoses, numbers that Ardila says disproportionately affect some groups more than others.

“We see that the numbers have been holding steady over the past five years and we see that this is starting to, or it has been for a while, disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities,” Ardila said.

Officials advise people that are sexually active get tested every three months. Ardila suggests for people to take PrEP to protect themselves against HIV.