Collaboration Between Wellness Center of South Florida and Hep-C ALERT Tackles HIV, Hepatitis C and Co-infection

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The front-line fight against HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C (HCV), two of South Florida's most widespread and deadly viral infections, has advanced another step.

Wellness Center of South Florida and Hep-C ALERT, two established local non-profits, have joined to form the "Co-infection Connection," a collaborative effort to prevent, test for and provide medical and other support service linkages for those infected. This collaboration is the first known effort in the South Florida area by existing organizations to pool talent and resources to combat viral diseases that share similar educational needs, discovery methods and treatment systems.

Wellness Center, respected for its enterprise in combating HIV/AIDS, and Hep-C ALERT, which has focused its efforts on HCV, recognized the serious overlap in HIV and HCV populations and determined a united effort for a mutual, strategic response would conserve meager resources and extend the effectiveness of both organizations.

Grants from the Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida and First Data Western Union Foundation ($44,560 and $5,000 respectively) will fund a portion of the Co-infection Connection's first year program. Existing resources have been committed by each non-profit, and additional support will be sought to complete the $389,000 pilot project.

"Not only are we working to integrate and expand patient services, we're also educating local and state health planning boards to ensure Hepatitis C and co-infection are included in future community health needs assessments," explained Heidi Taubenfeld, founder and executive director of Wellness Center.

Florida Department of Health estimates show Miami-Dade and Broward Counties with 68,000 people infected with Hepatitis C and 41,000 with HIV. The startling new realization that at least 30 percent or 12,000 are co-infected with both diseases -- a group not yet "on the radar screens" of community health organizations -- generated this unique response.

Wellness Center of South Florida, established in 1996, meets the needs of the under-served HIV-impacted communities of Broward County. Hep-C ALERT, established in 1997, is the only Hepatitis C organization serving South Florida. Both organizations are founded and run by women affected by HIV and/or Hepatitis C.