Mississippi: Day is Dedicated to Raising Awareness of, Offering Information on HIV/AIDS in Blacks
February 7, 2003
Now in its third year, today's National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day has special meaning for Mississippi activist Leon Fletcher, who tested positive for HIV in 1987 and considered it a slow death sentence. "It was devastating," he said. "I didn't want to live or burden anyone until I started doing research on my own and finding more about the disease." Fletcher hopes that today will be the day for others in Mississippi's African-American community to learn about HIV/AIDS to protect themselves.Adapted from:
Mississippi State Department of Health statistics show that African Americans made up 72 percent of the state's reported new HIV infections for 2001.
Health department STD/HIV division Director Craig Thompson said, "Disproportionately, HIV/AIDS affects African Americans in Mississippi. They constitute 37 percent of the general population in Mississippi yet comprise between a reported 70 percent and 80 percent of HIV and AIDS cases."
Marilyn Moering, executive director of Building Bridges, the state's only African-American AIDS service organization, said cultural homophobia and a general reluctance in the black community to discuss sex are some of the reasons for the higher rates. Fletcher said that closeted bisexual men who do not disclose their sexuality to women they are in relationships with have contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS among African Americans. A Chicago native who moved to Jackson last year, Fletcher said he was in a relationship with a woman for almost seven years while secretly dating men; then he decided to come out.
Moering also believes that African Americans' perception of the disease itself must change to stop placing the blame and to view the disease as a health issue. "It's not who you are but what you do that puts you at risk for HIV," she said.
The state health department has responded by developing and implementing prevention and education programs tailored to the African-American community. "[The prevention and education message] has to tie in with a value system people have as opposed to one we want to impose," said Thompson. Building Bridges takes a similar approach by providing culturally appropriate and specific information to educate the community.
Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.)
02.07.03; Sherri Williams
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.