World AIDS Day being observed Thursday

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 2:10 p.m.
Many people locally and globally will participate in activities for World AIDS Day today . Long believed to be a gay white man's disease, AIDS and HIV diagnoses in the black population have been steadily rising locally and nationally.
HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, causes AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 51 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the years 2001-2004 were in the black population, even with a slight decline in diagnoses during that period. The agency also reported that while the overall rate of HIV diagnoses in the United States remained relatively stable during 2001-2004 the rate of HIV diagnoses among blacks in 2004 remained 8.4 times higher than the rate among whites in the same year.
Alachua County Health Department statistics show there were 269 cases of HIV diagnosed in blacks from the period of 1997 to 2005.
Bobby Davis, HIV/AIDS program director for the Alachua County Health Department, said there is a steady rate of infection in the county among blacks, but the largest transmission rate is via heterosexual contact.
He compared the public's attitude about AIDS to a big white elephant in the room that no one discusses. The public's concern about the disease increases around World AIDS Day, but he believes the next peak in people getting tested will be when a celebrity actually becomes sick.
"We've seen this kind of behavior with Rock Hudson and Arthur Ashe," Davis said.
Davis and Teresa Parker, regional minority AIDS coordinator, said they have heard most of the myths about the so-called reasons behind the high rates of HIV infections in blacks.
"There are those that are high risk individuals for contracting AIDS such as drug users, those with sexually transmitted diseases, certain ages, race, but the activities of those in any category is what defines who is infected," Davis said, "It's not about race or poverty, or socioeconomic status, but participating in activities that have to do with contracting the disease."
He said the largest myth health officials are still fighting is that HIV/AIDS is a disease that only affects gay white males.
National and local statistics from the CDC and the county health department show that the most common transmission of infection is through males having sex with males, heterosexual sex and intravenous drug use, respectively,.
Davis said, "When testing for HIV/AIDS, you are being tested for the antibody your body produces to fight off the virus. If you are infected, your body keeps producing the antibody, and the drugs you are prescribed keep the antibody from mutating or changing so it can be treated. In cases such as Magic Johnson, the disease is undetectable, but it's still there. You can compare it to something not being caught in a sieve, if the holes are too big. But the smaller you make them, you find it. Once it's there it's like herpes, it's there."
Davis said many believe that the new drugs now being offered cure HIV/AIDS.
"The meds are fewer and people are living a longer and higher quality of life, but the drugs are like luggage that you will carry for the rest of your life," Davis said.
Davis said they also are dealing with a trust issue.
"Black males will not believe the health department. But as long as they get the information, that's all that matters."
This is where Teresa Parker, regional minority AIDS coordinator comes in. She provides and coordinates assistance to community-based organizations, helping them with prevention programs and activities as it relates to minority needs.
She likes to connect with the leader of the group she knows she wants to target. It could be a person in the neighborhood everyone trusts or respects.
"It's important to establish that trust with them, then information can be given and well-received," Parker said.
According to the CDC, "There is a need for increased HIV/AIDS prevention efforts that focus on blacks and men who have sex with men. Diagnoses continue to disproportionately impact blacks, with black men who have sex with men, and black women most severely affected."
Prevention efforts by the health department include targeting populations who are at risk, reaching them and providing them with education and testing.
The county health department offers a number of HIV testing options, Davis said.
They include rapid HIV tests, which he said are mainly used in the prison system. This test yields results in 20 minutes, and due to it's sensitivity can only be done in certain settings where the temperature is controlled.
Also available is the OraSure test, which yields results in two weeks.
"This test is more expensive, but it works well in the field," Davis said.
The most common method is a regular blood test. He said this is cheapest method and it gives the best results. Results are usually returned in a week to 10 days.
The newest method, not yet available, is at-home testing which gives results in 20 minutes. When it becomes available to the public it will cost about $50. A swab can be placed in the mouth for several seconds, then into a solution, which will show results. Though only a preliminary test, positive results are a strong indication the person is infected, according to Davis. Parker said a person receiving results from an AID/HIV test at home rather than in the traditional setting of office with a heath care professional can be as devastated as receiving results from an at home pregnancy test.f-b f-z Those with positive results are instructed to see a health care professional after taking the test.
Confidential testing is available at the Alachua County Health Department. There is an optional $20 fee to be tested. All, none, or some of the fee can be paid and testing will be done, based on what the person can give, if anything. Appointments can be made for testing Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Free male and female condoms are offered, as well as educational materials.
The county agency also helps HIV-positive persons receive support from the federally funded Ryan White Program, which offers health services not covered under other health programs. For more details, call (352) 334-8881.
The health department offers Project AIDS Care, a program that is an enhancement of the Florida Medicaid program that provides health services to AIDS sufferers in their home. The agency is located at 224 SE 24th St. and can be contacted at (352) 334-7960.
There also are a variety of other sources of help and support for AIDS/HIV awareness and prevention in Alachua County.
One of them is BASE, Black AIDS Services and Education, which has been in existence for about five years.
NKwanda Jah, president of BASE, said the sole purpose of the organization is education.
"An organization like BASE is needed because the number for infection rates in African-Americans nationally are up and numbers of infection are up locally," Jah said.
"Just looking at those numbers are cause enough for us. We want to prevent the disease and assist those living with it by making sure they are living the most productive lives possible."
The group will be hosting a walk through Gainesville's historic Pleasant Street Community Saturday beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Gainesville City Hall, 200 E. University Ave. Organizers are asking for pledges and donations to support the walk. Funds raised will be used for educational programs and to purchase educational materials that will be distributed in the African American community.
BASE can be contacted at (352) 372-0216. The group meets the first Tuesday of the month at the Wilhelmina Johnson Center, 321 NW 10th St., 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
Another organization is GAAP, Gainesville Area AIDS Project, started in September 1993. GAAP oversees Randy's Place Drop-in Center, which is open two days a week, Tuesdays for lunch from noon until 2 p.m. and after 5:30 p.m., and on Friday for dinner at 6 p.m.
The group also oversees the TREE Project, which stands for The Replenishment of Everyday Essentials. The program provides personal items to those with HIV/AIDS and receiving food stamps and/or living on disability.
"What we offer is needed because this is somewhere where people infected and affected by AIDS/HIV can come and conversate and not worry about bigotry," said GAAP President Randy Valentine.
GAAP, located at 1027-A NW 4th St., can be contacted at (352) 373-4227.
World Cuts Salon and Barber offers testing, free condoms and holds condom demonstrations, said owner Mickey Belle.
Belle said the testing is free and the results are confidential. World Cuts currently is working on youth programs and trying to help the community by letting youths know safe sex is the only sex, other than no sex.
Belle offers $5 off haircuts if customers participate in education programs they offer, which includes videos about safe sex.
He said he began offering this about a year ago because of the high rate of teen pregnancy.
"I want to help the community and my people understand what AIDS is, and to try to give back. If you're embarrassed we give you a brown bag to place your condoms in," Belle said.
He added that the service being offered in a barbershop helps people who may be ashamed to go to other agencies for help, such as the health department.
World Cuts, located at 2308 SE Hawthorne Road, Suite E, can be contacted at (352) 381-9835.

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