Sunday, February 8, 2004

Volunteers warn African-Americans
about AIDS threat



By Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kimberly Harper (left) and Carrie Schmid, of AIDs Volunteers of Cincinnati, help load up volunteers with Condoms to be handed out in Over-the-Rhine on Saturday.
(Ernest Coleman/The
Cincinnati Enquirer)
OVER-THE-RHINE - If you're going to volunteer for a cause, pick one that matters, said Debbie Kilgore as she walked the streets of Over-the-Rhine on Saturday.

For Kilgore, that cause is stopping AIDS, a devastating disease for all populations but one that is disproportionately hitting African-Americans in Greater Cincinnati and throughout the nation.

"It's ruining my people," said Kilgore, 43, an African-American and mother of two from North Avondale who had a cousin die of AIDS in the early 1990s.

Kilgore and three other volunteers spent the day in this neighborhood handing out condoms, along with brochures containing information on where to get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Volunteers fanned out across the nation Saturday, the fourth annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day.

While African-Americans represent about 12 percent of the country's population, they have accounted for 38 percent - more than 347,000 - of the 886,000 AIDS cases reported in the U.S. since the beginning of the epidemic, and more than half of the 42,000 new AIDS cases in 2002 alone.

LOCAL HIV CASES

Ohio

Hamilton County: 1,593

Butler County: 174

Warren County: 56

Clermont County: 39

All of Ohio: 12,698

Note: Numbers reflect only persons who tested positive for HIV and were confidentially reported.

Kentucky

As of June 2003, total AIDS cases, living and deceased, in the Northern Kentucky Area District was 327. The district includes Boone, Campbell, Carroll, Kenton, Gallatin, Grant, Owenton and Pendleton.

Sources: Ohio Department of Health; Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services

The numbers are similar in Greater Cincinnati, where an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people are living with HIV. As many as 25 percent of those people don't know they have it because they have not been tested, said Kathryn Thompson, director of education at AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, a non-profit agency based in Over-the-Rhine.

AIDS Volunteers organized Saturday's outreach effort. The agency - founded in July 1983, shortly after the first local cases of AIDS were diagnosed - provides case-management services for more than 1,500 people.

About 50 percent of its client base is African-American.

For African-American men, the leading cause of HIV infection is sexual contact with other men, followed by injection drug use and heterosexual contact, according to the CDC. Among African-American women, the leading cause of infection is heterosexual contact, followed by injection drug use.

Race itself is not a risk factor for HIV infection. However, health officials say African-Americans are more likely to face challenges associated with risk for HIV infection, including: poverty, substance abuse and denial.

"I believe many African-Americans are afraid to talk about their sexual behaviors because of certain stigmas. They think it's still a gay, white disease," said Danny Lewis, an African-American who works as the minority outreach educator with AIDS Volunteers.

Stigmas deter African-Americans from getting tested, Lewis said. If they do get tested, it's often late in the game - resulting in missed opportunities for treatment that can protect their health.

Late testing also delays the adoption of behaviors - abstinence, condoms - that can prevent infecting a partner.

Last year, AIDS Volunteers began offering the rapid "finger prick" HIV test, which can give results in 20 minutes. Since then, about 100 people each month are getting tested at the agency.

E-mail mleingang@enquirer.com




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