The Arkansas Minority Health Commission has designed a new grant program aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS among minority populations at a local level, the group announced Wednesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The commission will begin offering up to $150,000 in grants this year for community-based groups that work to educate people about HIV/AIDS, offer testing and services, or develop policies, Wynona Bryant-Williams, the commission's executive director, said. She added that commission officials "really want to be more proactive" in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Applications for individual grants -- which range from $15,000 to $50,000 -- are due by Feb. 6, and the awards will be announced in March. Creshelle Nash -- the commission's medical director who also is a professor with University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' College of Public Health and a physician at the UAMS Medical Center -- said the commission is "looking for partners, we are looking for collaborators because minority health is everyone's health."
The Democrat-Gazette reports that about 7,375 HIV/AIDS cases have been reported in Arkansas in the past 25 years, with 44% of them occurring among black and Hispanic populations. About 15.6% of the state's population is black and 5% is Hispanic. Nash said that the social disparities of minority groups in health care are "the most shocking and the most inhumane."
Bryant-Williams said the obstacles to preventing the spread of HIV among minority populations are "multilayered" and include issues like poverty, lack of health care access, social misconceptions and poor education. She added that people "have this facade that they're indestructible" and that many believe HIV/AIDS will not affect them because it was seen as only a "gay man's disease" when it was first discovered. Nash said conversations about prevention and the risks of HIV/AIDS need to occur within families, churches and schools. Rick Collins -- chair of the Arkansas HIV/AIDS Minority Task Force and co-executive director of Future Builders Inc., a not-for-profit HIV/AIDS awareness, counseling and testing group for local Arkansas communities -- said the group consistently finds people who do not understand the virus or how to prevent transmission. He added that many black men are hesitant to take precautions or be tested. "A lot of people still don't realize where the disease comes from," he said, adding, "People are engaging in sexual activity, and they're really not protecting themselves" (Park, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/15).
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