Sunday, December 02, 2007

World Aids Day

This appeared in the Chicago Defender

Advocates push for wider HIV/AIDS testing to stem rise of disease in Black community
by Leslie Jones McCloud
December 2, 2005

Going to the Chicago Cultural Center Yates Gallery Exhibit Hall on World Aids day was like entering into a different world.

There, people either knew their HIV status or were being gently pressured by friends to go get tested, or were getting tested. They weren't shy, nor did they find the subject matter too distasteful to discuss over hors d'oeuvres.

Either attendees were openly gay or still debating the issue, advocates for the cause or affected by it.

Some had friends who died during the 1990s (when gay men, mostly white, were still dying in droves from AIDS) and had changed their outlook on life or they had plenty of friends who still embraced a carefree lifestyle and all of its pitfalls.

It didn't seem to matter.

Hundreds of people poured inside the Yates Gallery Thursday. Vendors stopped handing out leaflets long enough for the entire room to fall silent in honor of those who had died from the disease.

People gathered to hear the various speakers and singers, to network and chitchat, but mostly, they were there to get tested for the virus that causes AIDS.

Phyllis Rogers, 43, arrived with her female friend, who did not want to be identified.

Rogers said she gets a yearly HIV test usually from her doctor but this year decided to utilize the OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV1/2 Antibody Test that was offered at Yates Gallery. The test requires a swab of the cheek, Chicago Department of Public Health Operations Manager for Outreach Mobile Services, Yvonne Cruz said.

Because there are so many sexually transmitted diseases on the horizon, Rogers said she gets tested regularly.


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"I've been divorced six years. I haven't been very sexually active since, but I have had two sex partners since my divorce. I have had unprotected sex with both," she said.
The first incident of unprotected sex happened because she and her sex partner didn't discuss safe sex.

"I'm ashamed to say we didn't discuss it. I panicked afterwards," she said.

Since then, she decided to get tested regularly. She said the condom came off during sex with her second sex partner.

"I panicked again. Since I get tested anyway, I decided to come here instead of my doctor," Rogers said.

She wasn't aware of the differing privacy levels when it comes to HIV/AIDS results reporting. Rogers and her 29-year-old friend said they were told results would be used for statistical purposes.

"I'm old school. This did not exist in my late teens, early 20s. It scares me," she said.

Roger's friend said she was certain her test result would be negative-and it was.

"I protect myself the majority of the time and my partner and I talk about safe sex," she said.

The Yates testing site was one of several sponsored by organizers at the Greater West Side Development Corp. and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7th). Gospel Shout Out, a free gospel concert held at John Marshall Metro High School to wrap up World Aids Day, featured more than just music, said Beverley Donley, executive director of Greater West Side Development Corp. Executive Director.

Statistics from the CDPH state that women of color and non-Hispanic Blacks are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and account for nearly 90 percent of all HIV infections in adolescent and adult women in Chicago between 2003-2004. Statistics also show heterosexual contact and injection drug use is the two main ways in which adolescent and adult women are currently being infected with HIV.

Davis and guest speakers like Dr. Lisa Henry-Reid, chairwoman of Adolescent and Adult Medicine at Stroger Hospital of Cook County, provided information about HIV/AIDS during concert intermissions.

Davis said his interest in HIV/AIDS education is a continuation of a life long effort.

"I'm an older person and have been working in the health area for 30 years - health prevention and awareness - long before I ran for public office," he said.

Davis said he plans to tell the audience that they should do all they can to stop the increase of HIV/AIDS infections.

"They can do that by abstaining from sex - in one way and practicing safe sex - in another way. Using protective devices like condoms and shields and other things and knowing the history - as much as they can - of their sex partners. That is what people really need to do," he said.

Davis said people should stop complaining about what the government and other institutions lack but take responsibility for his or her own health and the health of others.

"We can save lives and the life that we save may be our own," he said.

Henry-Reid said half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. are in the 14 to 24 year-old group.

"Kids are sexually active during the middle adolescent years 14-17 they are capable of having sex and getting pregnant but they (have a health education knowledge deficit). They feel invincible and that nothing will happen. Parents play a big role in preparing them for peer pressure they will encounter," Henry-Reid said.

Although she agrees with abstinence education, she feels it is sometimes an unrealistic curriculum. She said many 15 and 16-year-olds have had sex already. During the course of her day, Henry-Reid often interacts with youth and plans to tell audience members to stay safe. In her position, she gets to see many health trends.

"It's just a mishmash. We have a big problem with adolescent girls dating men and if the girl says that, 'it didn't happen,' the police have no recourse," she said.

World Aids Day participant, Leedale Carter, 39, said he found out he was HIV positive in the 1990s from his partner. The saying, "your partner's past can affect your future," became a reality for him.

"Unfortunately, my partner didn't know he was positive and I became infected by him during our relationship. It didn't upset me," he said.

His partner only found out he was positive because of a toothache. A dental office he frequented had been trying to contact him for two years to tell him he may be infected with HIV.

"When he went in for the toothache that is when they let him know. I'm grateful he told me. I was prepared for what my results were and we are still friends," Carter said. Currently, Carter said he is in a relationship with an HIV negative partner.

His main concern about being infected with HIV was that he would have to take lots of medicine. He started out taking five pills a day.

"It's getting better. We are living longer and making great strides with the medication. No longer do you have to take 20 or 30 pills a day. (For me) its just three," Carter said.
Getting tested for the virus that causes AIDS was the thrust of World Aids Day, but there weren't many people getting tested. In years past, the event would draw 30 or so to get tested, on average, said Lora Branch, director of STD/HIV Prevention and Care Program.

She expected a similar turnout this year.
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