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County health officials and the University of Maryland, College Park’s School of Public Health launched an outreach effort Tuesday at the University of Maryland, College Park that they hope will address high rates of HIV, AIDS and other health ailments in Prince George’s County.

The university’s new Prevention Research Center will team with residents, businesses and the county’s Department of Health to develop programs to encourage healthy lifestyle changes and proper medical care in the county and along the Washington, D.C., border.

The center was founded with a $2.5 million grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the PRC’s primary investigator, Professor Brad Boekeloo. It will serve an area that is medically underserved and suffers from exceptionally high rates of HIV, syphilis and diabetes, said county Health Officer Dr. Donald Shell.

According to a 2007 CDC report, 11.2 of every 100,000 county residents have syphilis, compared to 6.7 per 100,000 statewide.

“We definitely have a lot of individuals at risk … you have to meet people where they are,” Shell said. “I’m thankful for the Research Center and its efforts to come into the community.”

Tuesday’s announcement had added significance as it was held on World AIDS Day. Prince George’s ranked second among the state’s 24 local governments in AIDS and HIV rates, with more than 5,500 infected residents, trailing only Baltimore City.

“We take this very seriously, and this is a major problem for us,” said Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant, whose city will work with the center and has an existing partnership with the School of Public Health. “We believe we will be able to reach out and change this negative to a positive.”

The center hosted free HIV testing Tuesday along with the county Department of Health at the University of Maryland, College Park. Boekeloo said the center is also compiling a database of local organizations that could assist in AIDS and HIV outreach.