$4 million boost to turn the tide on AIDS in Cuyahoga County

July 6, 2015: The Ohio Department of Health shows 5,000 people in Cuyahoga County are living with HIV or AIDS.

CLEVELAND -- It's a statistic that may shock some.The Ohio Department of Health shows 5,000 people in Cuyahoga County are living with HIV or AIDS.

"The number is high for the population we have in Cleveland," said Stacy Soria, HIV Prevention Supervisor for Cleveland's Recovery Resources Agency. "Remember Cleveland is growing, so as Cleveland grows we're going to see a bigger issue in the coming years. "

So now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is getting serious about fighting the spread of the disease, with a $4 billion boost to keep numbers down in Cleveland.

It's a 5-year grant that goes to three grassroots groups intent on beating AIDS: Recovery Resources, Planned Parenthood and Care Alliance Health Center.

With these new finances, finding undiagnosed cases of HIV will be key in turning the tide.

"I say definitely get tested. That's the first step," says 21-year-old transgender Kay Marie Essence.

Essence, of Cleveland, was an escort who was paid for sex, until she found Cleveland's Recovery Resources agency and got HIV tested.

"It came back negative, but they also taught me some preventatives," said Essence.

Soria says the CDC estimates 60 percent of people who are positive don't know they have HIV.

The Ohio Department of Health reported 17 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 15- to 19-year-olds in 2013.

Recovery Resources helped Kay Marie Essence with tangible changes like a legitimate, legal and steady paycheck.

"They pushed me to find a job to better myself," said Essence.

The collaborative effort of Recovery Resources, Planned Parenthood and the Care Alliance Health Center says their multi-pronged approach to the $4 million over 5 years is as straight forward as this:

"We want to be able to identify more people in the community who are HIV positive and link them to care, " said Soria.

For starters, the CDC money means the mobile testing van reaches more people.

"We feel that HIV for Cleveland is a winnable battle," said Soria.

"I thank God, and I thank fate, that I did find recovery resources and I did meet Stacy. I feel like I did change my life for the better, and a year later I did good," said Essence.

The three agencies expect to serve more than 30,000 people in the next 5 years with that $4 million, which doubles the HIV prevention resources available in Cuyahoga county.


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