Escambia County's Dirty Little Secret
Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Sunday and I hope you are having a safe and great weekend. Dab the AIDS Bear and I are enjoying a rare down day and catching up on our rest.
Yesterday, I started a blog on the secret about HIV and AIDS in Escambia County where my hometown is located. So today I would like to finish the blog.
Testing helps identify the HIV virus early, but what happens next? How can someone fight back? Proper medication and nutrition are the two most important factors in maintaining health when living with HIV/AIDS. Without one or the other, neither of the two works to their full capacity
Appetite for Life is a non-profit organization that provides high quality, nutritious meals to people living in Escambia County who are affected by or infected with HIV/AIDS. The organization also runs a food pantry, a nutritional supplement program and several other volunteer, need based programs.
Although medication is sometimes provided through insurance or government assistance programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), many patients are simply too weak or sick to cook their own food, and therefore do not supply their body with the proper nutrients necessary for the medicine to be effective and work to its full capacity.
Appetite for Life served its first meal in 1997, and began providing three meals a day to the disabled and those living with a terminal illness. Today it is providing over 3,000 meals per month.
The food pantry and summer food service program were started soon after the first meals were delivered. The food pantry serves monthly 350 homeless. The summer food service program runs from June until the second week in August and targets children who receive free or reduced priced meals and are dependent on the public school system for their meals during the school year. Appetite for Life provides these children two meals a day.
Escambia County is second in the state for the most reported cases of women and children living with AIDS.
Some of these children have never eaten regular meals until they became a part of our program. The poverty in this town is unreal.
The organization not only provides meals to those living with AIDS, but to their dependents as well, which means a mother living with AIDS has meals provided for her children. Some of the children on the home delivery routes are so excited to receive their meals, they are unable to hide their gratitude.
Appetite for Life provides its clients with lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Volunteers as well as the chef prepare the meals daily. Pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, chef salad, breads, and homemade cookies are among the items they serve.
FUNDING THE CAUSE
As Appetite for Life expanded its meal service to meet the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases and children living in poverty, funding became an issue. The non-profit does not receive any government funding and functions only on donations from individual parties, grants and fundraisers.
“We stepped back, got a commercial kitchen, and starting a catering gig,” Ditty said. “Catering became a way to bring income to the non-profit organization.”
Many local businesses order from Appetite for Life boxed lunches or party trays for meetings and office functions. The catering aspect has raised awareness of the cause, grown a larger client base, and generated income so the company can become self sustaining in the event that other avenues of funding run out.
Aside from providing food to various groups within the community, Appetite for Life helps its clients stay connected with what’s going on in the community. Every day, alongside the lunches and dinners, a newspaper is delivered.
A lot of these people are homebound, either due to their economic status or their condition, and this is literally the only connection they have to the outside world.
Ditty is one of nine drivers and 35 - 40 regular volunteers who do everything from food packaging to data entry. “It is very dynamic we have people who do everything,” he said. “Our organization could not exist without our volunteers.”
These volunteers and staff members offer a support system to clients without family or friends. Those who do have family and friends may not have made them aware of their situation.
“AIDS is a difficult disease to deal with, even with a full support system, much less alone like some of our clients,” said Ditty. “One of the clients we deliver to lives with her family, and they do not know about her condition. They think she just receives the meals because she is part of a Meals on Wheels type program.”
Obtaining the proper medication in addition to sustaining a diet of proper nutrition has gotten significantly harder in the past six months. The federally-funded ADAP has been assisting people in receiving the complex antiretroviral medications being used to treat AIDS.
There are now 2,300 people on the waiting list. “ADAP never had a waiting list before June 1, 2010.
ADAP provides medication to 166,000 people living with AIDS. ADAP is funded by federal and state money, but because of the recent economic downtown, many states are unable to donate as much as they were before.
“There has been a bigger demand for the medication,” said Dr. John Lanza, Director of the Escambia County Health Department. “The economic downtown, the lost jobs, the lost insurance the waiting lists are now growing quite long.”
In order for ADAP to continue serving in 2011 and reach all of the people currently on the waiting list, it would need an estimated $370 million budget increase.
ADAP provides medication to most people who would otherwise never be able to afford it. Without insurance, a month of medication costs about $2,500.
Even if the medicine and proper nutrition are obtained, intense side effects can still occur.
“It is a cocktail of drugs that you have to take,” Ditty said. “People think there is a cure now but there is not.”
HIV/AIDS medication has progressed significantly in the past 10 - 15 years, and the disease is no longer the immediate death sentence it once was. However, the side effects can range from mild to severe.
“If you’re over 55, the medications don’t work as well,” Southard said. “If you are not receiving the proper nutrition, they do not work as well.”
Some of the moderate effects include dizziness, migraines and nausea, while the severe can include hepatitis, insomnia, jaundice and anemia.
Medication has also been made available that can prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child. However, it is not mandatory to test pregnant women for HIV/AIDS. The woman must request the test from her doctor. Many women do not know that, or think that HIV/AIDS would show up in another test and so they do not request a separate test, resulting in the transmission to the baby.
WHAT WE CAN DO TO FIGHT IT
All the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding AIDS leads people to believe that they can’t or won’t contract it. The best way to overcome this is to continually educate the public and testing. Test early and test often.
Escambia County has consistently been ranked 12th or 13th out of the 67 counties in Florida for having the most reported AIDS cases. “We do a lot of testing in Escambia County,” Dr. Lanza said. “If you do not look for it, you will not find it.”
And if you do not find it, you can not report it or prevent it. There are over 15 different testing sites in Escambia County that provide free HIV/AIDS testing.
“Education is the solution to a lot of problems we have, community or otherwise,” Dr. Lanza said. “We need to educate everyone, from grade school on up, and make sure that everyone knows how you contract this.”
So now you know the rest of the story. Until we meet again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.
big bear hug,