POSTED: | By Andrew Edwards, Press-Telegram
LONG BEACH >> A new AIDS Healthcare Center recently opened to provide free testing and a pathway to health care for those who test positive for the disease.
“We offer treatment without regard to ability to pay,” said Dr. George Melikian, the clinic’s lead physician. “If there is an FDA-approved treatment for HIV on the market, we have it.”
The clinic, which opened last month, offers confidential services and is near Pacific Coast Highway and Redondo Avenue. It is adjacent to the Out of the Closet thrift shop, which is itself a place where visitors can browse for vintage clothing or obtain a free HIV test. The thrift shop, part of a network with several locations in Southern California, is a fundraising operation for Aids Healthcare Foundation and its Long Beach location has its own pharmacy.
In addition to the new Long Beach center, the foundation operates AIDS Healthcare Center clinics in other areas, including Redondo Beach, Los Angeles and Upland.
In Long Beach, state Department of Public Health records show there were 1,592 HIV cases recorded from 1983 through December. Records also show 6,284 AIDS cases during the same time period.
Additionally, the state’s records show that 3,181 Long Beach AIDS patients have died since the state started recording data in 1983, although the data table does not specify the causes of death for those people.
Although an HIV diagnosis was once considered to be a sign that a patient would soon develop AIDS and die relatively soon from complications stemming from a compromised immune system, an HIV patient who consistently uses proper medication can now expect to die of old age, Melikian said.
“We’re not seeing people dying, passing away like we used to,” he said.
Current methods allow doctors to assess the genetic makeup of an individual patient’s HIV virus and develop a tailored medication plan, Melikian said. He cautioned, however, that the ability for modern medications to reduce an individual’s HIV infection below detectable levels does not mean that there is a cure for the disease. Once a patient begins treatment, it is critical to remain on medication for the rest of one’s life.
HIV treatment is costly; Melikian said a patient’s pharmaceutical bills alone can reach $40,000 per year. The foundation seeks to help patients access various sources of aid, such as Medicare, Medi-Cal or Ryan White Program funds.
“We do everything we can to find some way,” the doctor said.
The new Aids Healthcare Foundation clinic in Long Beach is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays. The clinic is at 3500 E. Pacific Coast Highway.
Contact Andrew Edwards at 562-499-1305.