February 5, 2009
AIDS advocates in South Carolina are working to promote Saturday's National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Along with a number of events linked to the day, Gov. Mark Sanford has issued a proclamation urging people to "get tested, get involved, and get treated."
African Americans account for 73 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in South Carolina, though they comprise just 30 percent of the population. According to state health officials, nearly seven in 10 men and almost eight in 10 women diagnosed with the disease are black. Eighty percent of HIV/AIDS cases in the 15-24 age group are African-American.
Deadra Lawson-Smith, a participant in the Southern AIDS Living Quilt project, online at www.livingquilt.org, says misperceptions linger about who is contracting HIV today. "The woman who is becoming positive today isn't the drug addict or the prostitute. The woman who is becoming positive now is going to work, raising her family, and paying her taxes," she said.
Many experts believe mobilizing churches is essential to stemming the epidemic's toll on blacks. Now in its third year, Project F.A.I.T.H. directly engages clergy on the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, said the Rev. Perry Oliver, its director. "It's the old stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, with homophobia, and sometimes people find it very hard to talk about sex and the church," he said.
However, once faith-based leaders see the alarming statistics, they are often open to education and assistance, said Oliver. To date, 39 congregations have tapped Project F.A.I.T.H.'s HIV/AIDS resources.
For information about HIV testing opportunities statewide, telephone the S.C. AIDS/STD Hotline at 800-322-AIDS (2437).