National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

On this national Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, several lawmakers stepped forward at the Capitol to get tested in the hopes of sending a message.

Rep. Curtis Richardson was among several black lawmakers who took a very public stand about the HIV AIDS crisis sweeping Florida.

He got tested at the Capitol.

Sen. Curtis Richardson, (D) Tallahassee, said, "We’ve got to start talking about this issue and making it a major aspect of our community. We have tended for too long to think that it will go away simply because we don’t address it."

Although black people make up only 14 percent of Florida’s population, they comprise more than half of new HIV cases every year. Sen. Frederica Wilson says the infection rates are even higher for black women who don’t think they’re at risk.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, (D) Miami, says, "We must talk about unsafe sex, sex with multiple partners, dirty needles, we can’t keep sweeping this under the rug."

These days the test itself is the easy part. It’s just a simple cheek swab. Getting people to get tested is the hard part.

Many people just don’t want to get the test because of the stigma of HIV/AIDS. But public health officials say they also deserve some of the blame. A whole generation is growing up after the attention AIDS got in the 80’s, and those young people apparently haven’t learned the risk factors.

Thomas Liberti of the Florida Department of Health says, "We have to do a better job among those populations; we have to market the message differently; we have to put it in different shapes and sizes."

By showing the test is easy and painless, lawmakers hope at least some of the people who need to take it will.

Sen. Frederica Wilson is sponsoring a bill that would require jails around the state to offer HIV testing to inmates before they are released. A similar program is offered at state prisons.