New York: Harlem Organization Takes New Approach to Fighting HIV/AIDS
December 23, 2009
A Harlem health services organization is making gains against HIV/AIDS by, ironically, downplaying its special status and treating it like other basic community health problems.
"What is needed is a neighborhood taking care of its basic health," said Soraya Elcock, vice president of policy and public affairs at Harlem United, the neighborhood's leading HIV/AIDS organization.
The core of its HIV/AIDS initiative is the Blocks Project. Established in January 2008, its goal is to test everyone in the community. In the midst of some discouraging statistics, the program can point to some successes. In its first year, say program officials, the Blocks Project has increased HIV testing some 75 percent.
"It's not about whether you're at risk," said Elcock. "A lot of [people] don't believe they're at risk."
Officials at Harlem United have found that the traditional approach of targeting HIV/AIDS among certain demographic groups -- e.g., Latinos or African immigrants -- tends to marginalize members of those groups. Often the result is fear or denial.
Instead, Harlem United has cast a wide net and saturated the community with an intense but broad health promotion message. The organization runs two clinics and several housing facilities. It offers an array of social and health programs, including the only entirely bilingual Spanish HIV/AIDS clinic in the United States.
The need for this concentrated effort is clear. In 2006, the average Harlem resident was six times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than the average American. Latinos in Harlem were more than 12 times as likely as other Latino New Yorkers to be diagnosed with HIV.
The Uptowner (New York City)
12.16.2009; Sam Petulla