With HIV infections ticking up, Mecklenburg County officials on Wednesday opened a clinic on Beatties Ford Road with a goal of reducing the rate of future infections.

The clinic, located inside the Northwest Public Health Department, will distribute pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill that can reduce by 90% the risk of contracting HIV through sex. It reduces HIV transmission from sharing needles by more than 70%.

Providing this medication will be the clinic’s main service.

In 2020, health officials counted 8,547 people infected with HIV in Anson, Cabarrus, Gaston, Mecklenburg and Union counties. That was up from 8,300 infections in 2019, according to a state database.

An estimated 9,336 adults in Mecklenburg County are at a heightened risk of contracting HIV, according to county officials.

Risk factors include :

  • unprotected sex with a partner who has HIV
  • a recent sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • using a needle to inject illegal drugs

Of those county residents considered to be at heightened risks, about 1,262 are without health insurance.

“The addition of this clinic is an opportunity for the county to address a common barrier that has stood between the residents of this community and access to quality medical care,” Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

In Mecklenburg, numbers show that people of color, especially Black residents, are more likely to be infected with HIV.

Matt Jenkins, a county health manager, said social detriments like access to health care and unemployment also play an indirect role in HIV transmission.

The clinic, one of nine in Mecklenburg, will also provide services such as STI screenings and sexual health treatment.

The health department also offers free HIV and STI testing kits.

Lab costs are free for county residents who are uninsured or underinsured. Those residents also may qualify to get the pre-exposure prophylaxis medication for free.

The clinic is open Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This article was published as part of our West End Journalism Project, which is funded by a grant by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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