‘Don’t hurt the ones you love’: Waterbury’s battle against HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day

New Haven

WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Waterbury is a city that has been hit hard by the coronavirus. It is one of those cities in the red zone.

COVID-19 has been dominating the headlines. But HIV health care outreach workers also want to let people know there is another virus to contend with and they used World AIDS Day to get that word out.

“With COVID going on, people don’t seem to realize that HIV and STI’s are still on the rise,” said Sam Bowens, of the Waterbury Department of Public Health.

Bowens leads a team of HIV outreach workers who hit the streets of Waterbury to try and encourge people to engage in safe sex practices and to not put themselves in harms way of getting HIV or AIDS.

He tells News 8 more than 10,700 people have HIV or AIDS in Connecticut right now and Waterbury is one of the leading areas — along with Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Stamford.

“It’s alarming and it tells you more work needs to be done,” Bowens said.

Bowens says Connecticut has a statewide program aimed at addressing this crisis. It’s called “Getting to Zero” and each city runs its own part of the program differently.

In Waterbury, Bowens says the city has a mobile unit that they drive into hard hit sections of the city. Inside, they can provide anonymous, new “Insti” testing that lets you know within minutes if you’re HIV positive. They also have private exam rooms and areas where they can speak to you about getting any help you may need fighting HIV/AIDS.

Bowens and his team of outreach workers do this not just on World AIDS Day. They do it everyday. For them, it is worthwhile work trying to make a difference in their communities — communities they want to see healthy.

“This is my community and I want to try to help take care of the people in it,” Bowens said.

Bowens also told us the health department also has a supply of HIV home test kits that they mail out to residents and most people who take the test respond. Bowens says it further adds to the comfort level of people knowing they can take these tests privately.

“We have a 99 percent compliance rate with that,” Bowens said.

Several people on the street who saw News 8 with the outreach crews on Tuesday praised the work they are doing.

“You guys are doing a good job, you know?” one man said. “It’s important out here…. gotta get tested so you don’t hurt the ones you love.”

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