The West Tennessee Consortium and Community Planning Group hopes to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and stop “an epidemic that does not discriminate.” Members spoke at a roundtable discussion held at the Jackson-Madison County Health Department on September 24. The theme of the discussion was “Getting to Zero in Our Neighborhoods. HIV/AIDS Is Here; What Can We Do?”
Fisher Smith from the Lane College Health Ambassadors stated that the health clinic provides services for people in the community with HIV/AIDS, but more people are needed to help with outreach. According to Shelia Ward, one of the major difficulties is combating the stigma people associate with HIV/AIDS. The health department sent at least 100 invitations to beauty shops, barbers, and local churches asking them to the roundtable discussion, but only a dozen attended. Ward said that supporters for education are faced with the stigma and misinformation about HIV/AIDS, and they cannot talk about it in the school system because of the abstinence-only sex education curriculum.
Janice Brown with the county health department shared statistics on the disease. From 2005–2010, there were 730 cases of HIV/AIDS in West Tennessee, excluding Shelby and Madison Counties, Brown stated. Of those cases, 133 were persons ages 15 to 34. In Madison County, there are 304 reported cases of HIV/AIDS; most are people 25–34 years old. Brown said those numbers are why it is important for young people to get tested for the disease. She emphasized that “the most important thing we can do is to get people to care.” She noted that testing won’t hurt people and that there is an oral test in which the health department swipes people’s gums for those who do not want to do a blood test.
Brown went on to say that more than 160 cases of HIV/AIDS in West Tennessee were from male-to-male sexual exchanges. Almost the same number—150—were from male-to-female sexual exchanges. She noted that this highlights that the disease does not just affect one group of people. Fisher Smith said despite the bad news, there is hope. “Gay white men have the least amount of contracting cases because they’ve educated themselves on safe practices,” Smith added. “Others can do the same. Things are getting better; they’re just getting better at a slow pace.”
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