Luis Almodovar and Lee Sauseda spend a portion of their workday utilizing cellphone applications to locate local individuals looking for social and/or sexual encounters.
Social media apps can specifically target individuals based on things like sexual preference, ethnicity and age and provide an easier and more modern way of “picking someone up.” The applications also provide an outlet for Prevent HIV/AIDS risk reduction specialists like Almodovar and Sauseda to identify people who need to be educated about the risks of HIV or get tested for the virus.
Sauseda and Almodovar thumb through postings from local communities and wait for someone to respond.
“Some days are better than others and some days no one is talking,” Sauseda said. “We befriend them and try to educate them if they are open to it.”
Prevent HIV/AIDS Center, based in Temple, provides free HIV and syphilis outreach education, condom distribution and testing to seven counties throughout Central Texas.
In the past decade, advancements in technology and medical science greatly changed the face of HIV/AIDS from the character played by Tom Hanks in the 1993 movie “Philadelphia.”
Technology helped organizations reach out and educate people, but also facilitated an easier way for people to arrange anonymous and impromptu sexual encounters locally.
“It’s like ordering a pizza,” Sauseda said. “You don’t even have to leave your desk at work to find someone to hook up with. You just go on the apps and find what you’re looking for. Sometimes the person is in the office right next to you and you can hook up on your lunch break.”
Almodovar and Sauseda have profiles on several different apps where they try to intercept “hookups.” Rather than sex, they offer means of protection and an HIV and syphilis test.
Experts say education and awareness are the keys to preventing the spread of HIV. Over the past decade, the annual number of new HIV infections remained relatively stable, but the number of people living with HIV increased. Still, the pace of new infections continues at far too high a level — particularly among certain groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teach safe sex
Janet Cates, program manager of Prevent HIV/AIDS, said children should be educated about safe sex at an early age.
“We teach our children to swim and we even put a life jacket on them in case they get too close and fall in,” she said. “Why are we not educating our youth on this topic? HIV won’t jump on you ... you have to make the conscious decision to have unprotected sex and not protect yourself.”
The Killeen Independent School District offers students the Scott & White “Worth the Wait” abstinence-based sex education program, but groups like Prevent HIV/AIDS say kids need a “buffet of options” where they decide how to protect themselves.
In the meantime, the specialists will attempt to connect with those who are not educated about the risks of HIV — and those who choose to ignore them.
Susan Mayo and her team of risk reduction specialists hope more open dialogue will encourage more people to get tested instead of driving them underground.
“There is still a huge stigma around HIV and getting tested and people are afraid to find out their status,” she said. “We need to be more comfortable talking about it.”
For more information on getting tested, call 254-771-3352, search PreventHIVAIDS Temple on Facebook or email PreventHIVAIDS@aol.com.