Zachary Thompson

While medical, support services will continue for those already infected, efforts to prevent new infections will get more attention, DHHS says


As new HIV infections continue to be recorded, officials are shifting the focus to a new, comprehensive prevention model, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson.

Thompson said that while funding will still go to support and medical services for those already infected with HIV, the focus on preventing new infections will be stronger than before.

Thompson said that Dallas leads Texas in the number of HIV and AIDS cases. The numbers are on the rise for youths ages 13 to 24, individuals aged 45 and older, African-Americans, and MSMs (men who have sex with men). New prevention programs are aimed at these audiences, which in the past have proven difficult to reach.

“Younger people think they’re invincible,” Thompson said, “while the individuals above 45 seem to think that their partners are safer.”

But neither assumption is true, Thompson said, encouraging those who think they transcend HIV to get tested and know their status, know their partner’s status, and protect themselves.

As for the numbers among people of color, Thompson said he expects to see an increase in HIV infections among African-American men and women.

“Reaching the people of color has been a challenge over the years,” said Thompson, revealing that for many years communities of color have seen HIV and AIDS as a “white person disease.”

Thompson made a reference to Magic Johnson and how his infection brought the attention to communities of color.

“We’ve got to move past the stigmas and focus on prevention efforts,” Thompson said.

The new comprehensive prevention model, Thompson explained, tries to target these high-risk groups. He said the county has been working towards setting up more testing facilities in areas that have higher numbers of HIV infections, such as the 75243 zip code.

New funding is also going towards setting up community-based organizations for prevention.

Thompson said that prevention must start at a community level and start “bottom-up, not top-down.”

In order to reach men and women aged 45 and over, Thompson has said that the county is looking into having HIV and AIDS education available in the community libraries, civic groups and churches. For the youths in the 13-to-24 age range, they’re looking into social networking technology such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word out, as well as starting more school-based programs.

But Thompson also said that people have gotten too caught up in the numbers and infection rates and haven’t paid enough attention to the individual communities that don’t have the resources to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. He agreed that AIDS has fallen out of popularity as a “cause,” and that some are getting complacent about taking care and protecting themselves.

But AIDS isn’t going away and we are not in a safe zone yet, Thompson said. The key is prevention, paying more attention to the community and getting tested.

“Testing, testing, testing,” Thompson emphasized. Know where you stand and keep yourself protected.