RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - According to a state health report in February, Oglala Lakota County is seeing a high rate of HIV/AIDS cases compared to other counties and Pennington County is following close behind.
A volunteer conducts a mock HIV/AIDS test.
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month and the Volunteers of America are gearing up to host another round of free testing to help tackle those numbers.
In 2018, the South Dakota Department of Health reported more than 600 people were living in the state with HIV and or AIDS.
It's a statistic the Volunteers of America in Rapid City are trying to combat daily.
The non-profit organization distributes 20,000 condoms and provides more than 300 free HIV tests throughout the year.
Tests are conducted right in the organization's office on New York Street and in locations like the Pennington County Jail, homeless facilities and treatment centers.
According to the report in 2018, Native American's make up 14 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases in the state.
But, the most undetected cases are on Native American reservations which is why for four years Volunteers of America has worked with the Kyle Health Center on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Three months ago, Volunteers of America created an outreach program on the Rosebud reservation.
Though treatments have evolved over the years, registered nurse Jessica Buckley said the negative stigma about AIDS has not. From working with HIV patients constantly, she said as soon as they are diagnosed with the disease they fear their life is doomed.
"They do feel that number one their life is over. That they're going to die. That they can't have relationships anymore. That's generally what I do I sit down and talk with them. Let them know HIV is a very manageable, very livable disease as long as they're getting into care, going to their doctor's appointments and taking their medicine every day," Buckley said.
Volunteers of America will host a free HIV testing at the Community Health Center of the Black Hills on Pine Street next Wednesday from 10 to 2 p.m.