Shreveport, LA (KMSS) — In 10 seconds, during his acceptance speech, Academy Award winner Jared Leto brought nationwide attention to people suffering from HIV and AIDS, “This is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS, and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you."
When Leto, a native of Bossier City said that, it gave doctors like Dr. Gerardo Negron a reason to hope. "For an acclaimed actor to be noting as part of his acceptance speech for an award last night, it's very important because it's here in the community." Dr. Negron specializes in HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases. During his 12 years working in the Shreveport area, he’s seen too many cases of HIV to count.
That’s something doctors all over the state are feeling. In 2011, the Centers for Disease control calculated that out of all the states, Louisiana had the highest HIV infection rate. Out of every 100,000 people, 36.6 were infected. That’s much higher than larger states. In California, the rate was about half that of Louisiana’s.
In 2012, more than a thousand new cases of HIV were diagnosed. Of those 29% were infected from heterosexual contact, and 19% were white. Dr. Negron pointed out that these statistics crush stereotypes about HIV and AIDS, “it's not a gay only thing. It's not a black only thing. It's a heterosexual thing, it's a homosexual problem, and it's an everybody problem. Black, white, or in between."
Shreveport’s Philadelphia Center is one of the only places that gives out condoms for free, and provides HIV testing free of charge. After hearing Leto’s speech, they have high hopes. Virginia Player of the Philadelphia Center explained her thoughts. "I really hope that it brought awareness to the people here in the community to know that they need to be tested because HIV does not make you sick, and one of the biggest problems with HIV you could be spreading it and not know you're spreading it because you've never been tested."
According to Dr. Negron, that's where sexual education needs to come into play. He points out that it needs to start before children become sexually active, which according to the CDC is around 14 in Louisiana. Studies show that the infection rates for HIV start to increase around 16, and don’t come back down until about 65. He argues that unless children are educated in sexual education from an early age, Louisiana and other Southern states, will continue to have high infection rates. Currently, most schools in the area only educate students about abstinence, not giving them other alternatives.
He hopes that having a celebrity from Louisiana talk about HIV will give people a reason to take action against HIV and AIDS.
The Philadelphia Center offers free HIV testing by appointment only. The center is located at 1804 Centenary Blvd. in Shreveport. Their phone number is 318-222-6633 or 1-866-513-2863. Their hours for testing are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, from 9am until 4pm. The 3rd Thursday of the month from 9am until 7pm, and the first Saturday of the month, from 10am until 3 pm.