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Pennsylvania: Red Cross Targets Sex Industry Workers With HIV/AIDS Education and Protection

July 18, 2003

Female and male sex industry workers and their customers in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., are the targets of an American Red Cross HIV prevention project. For about eight years, ARC HIV/AIDS outreach workers have hit city streets in an agency van during warm weather to educate high-risk populations on disease prevention.

The Wyoming Valley chapter program is likely the first Red Cross program of its kind in the nation, according to its creator, Red Cross Regional Director of Education and Outreach Mark Innocenzi, who said the program began in 1995. "We realized we really needed to look at high-risk populations because many of our sex industry workers have cross addictions," Innocenzi said.

On average, the complete Red Cross intervention program reaches 2,000 to 3,000 people per month. Five staff members target certain at-risk populations. The program is supported by state funding and not donations. HIV/AIDS Intervention Programs Director Theresa Tyler-Smith estimates $200,000 and $250,000 is spent annually on the Wyoming Valley chapter's entire HIV/AIDS education program. The money is spread among the six counties the chapter covers -- Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna, Pike, Wayne and Wyoming.

Tyler-Smith credits the Wilkes-Barre Police Department for supporting the program and sometimes providing additional patrols in the van's proximity for Red Cross workers' safety. Though they might be in the area, police do not target individuals who stop at the van.

According to the state Department of Health, six new AIDS cases were reported for Luzerne County in 2000, half of those diagnosed in 1998. From 1980-2002, there have been 28,028 AIDS cases statewide - 236 of which came from Luzerne County. The state began tracking HIV cases at the end of last year, but those numbers will not be available for some time, said Richard McGarvey, state Department of Health spokesperson.

Back to other news for July 18, 2003

Adapted from:
Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
07.13.03; Kalen Churcher

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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