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Widespread HIV testing sought in the Bronx

  • Story Highlights
  • Health Department wants HIV tests for everyone age 18-64 in the Bronx
  • New report finds high rate of "unsafe sexual behavior" in New York City
  • A quarter of the city's residents infected with HIV live in the Bronx
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From Mythili Rao
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A three-year initiative will seek to give HIV tests to everyone in the Bronx from age 18 to 64, the New York City Department of Health announced Thursday.

A new initiative seeks to reach the 250,000 Bronx adults who have never been tested for HIV.

A new initiative seeks to reach the 250,000 Bronx adults who have never been tested for HIV.

The announcement comes on the heels of a report released Wednesday that found a high rate of "unsafe sexual behavior" in New York City.

"Of most concern, among men who have sex with men who had five or more partners in the past year, 36 percent did not use condoms consistently," Health Commissioner Thomas Freidan said in a statement released with the report. "This is a core group which is at high risk for getting, and spreading, HIV."

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS.

The Bronx has been particularly hard-hit, according to the report. A quarter of New Yorkers infected with HIV -- more than 21,000 people -- live in the Bronx, and the borough reports a third of the city's AIDS deaths each year.

The Bronx already leads the way with HIV testing, with 68 percent of adults -- compared with 64 percent in Manhattan and 56 percent in Brooklyn -- reporting having been tested at some point in their lives. But the new initiative seeks to reach the 250,000 Bronx adults who have never been tested -- some of whom may be unknowingly living with HIV.

"New infections are still occurring at epidemic rates," Bronx borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. said in a written statement, "especially among women and people of color."

According to city officials, one in four people with HIV in the Bronx do not know that they are infected, and one in four of those who find out that they are HIV-positive also learn that they already have full-blown AIDS.

Soraya Pares, 43, a program coordinator at the Bronx Health Center who focuses on HIV prevention, referral and counseling, found out she was HIV-positive in 1991, soon after her newborn daughter tested positive for HIV.

"I was one of those people who thought it wouldn't happen to me," she told CNN.

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Pares said the new testing initiative will improve awareness in a community that is in denial about the prevalence of HIV. "It's not just the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered and the IV drug users," Pares said. "Regular people also get infected. It's the same disease."

Since finding out she was HIV-positive, Pares said, she has worked on community health issues -- first as a volunteer and now as a full-time employee -- and has gotten married. Her husband is HIV-negative.

On Wednesday, she watched her HIV-positive daughter, who plans to become a nurse, graduate from high school.

"If you know your status, it's possible to have a fruitful life and still have anything and everything your heart desired," Pares said.

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