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Local and Community News

Texas: Campaign Personalizes Numbing HIV Statistics

December 9, 2002

In Harris County, Texas, black women account for 77 percent of all HIV-infected women. They represent a particularly vulnerable population, contracting the virus from undiagnosed partners, potentially passing it to children, and becoming sick from lack of treatment. That is why Amanda Johnson, 41, and three other women took the extraordinary step of making their faces and their stories public. They are part of an unprecedented, $60,000 public awareness campaign by the Harris County Hospital District and the Houston Department of Health and Human Services aimed at black men and women, whose infection rates are dramatically higher than those of other ethnic groups. Blacks now make up nearly half of local HIV/AIDS cases -- up from less than one-third a decade ago.

Beginning Dec. 2, Metro buses are featuring placards depicting "The new faces of HIV in Houston." Barber shops, beauty salons and music stores will display posters and brochures that say, "What's worse than a bad hair day? Not knowing your man is HIV positive. Or that you are."

Johnson and the other women -- Dena Gray, 33; Reachelian Ellison, 28; and Johnetta Evans-Thomas, 48 -- are in good health. But all have battled depression, a profound sense of shame, relationship problems and serious setbacks in supporting themselves. They met one another in the course of seeking treatment and in classes designed to teach the medical, political and social aspects of HIV. Seeing the plight of others in similar situations ignited a passion to help, and all of them are pursuing that goal in some form.

"Women who were infected through their relationship with a man [experience] such a deep sense of disempowerment: 'I didn't know he had it. I didn't know I got it,'" said Sue Gallego, an Austin social worker who has written about and counseled HIV-positive women for 15 years. "If we can get them into a women's group, all sorts of things happen," she said. "They become willing to come out and help others. That's putting them in control."

Back to other CDC news for December 9, 2002

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Adapted from:
Houston Chronicle
12.01.02; Leigh Hopper

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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