Not knowing is no longer an option in Black Belt

Published 4:59pm Saturday, November 23, 2013

The world marks World AIDS day each Dec. 1. It is a time to reflect on the marvelous advancements made in battling the horrific disease, take stock of those who are continuing to fight for their lives and remind ourselves of ways to continue to curb the spread of both HIV and AIDS.

Last year, the Times-Journal dedicated nearly the entire front page of the Dec. 1 edition to information about AIDS in the Black Belt and the numbers were staggering.

The Alabama Department of Public Health started reporting HIV/AIDS cases in 1985. Since then, Dallas County has reported 239 cases while surrounding counties in Area 7 have cumulatively reported 72 cases (Lowndes), 52 cases (Sumter), 46 cases (Hale), 43 cases (Perry), 39 cases (Marengo and Choctaw) and 30 cases (Wilcox).

According to the data collected by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the fastest growing population of the virus across the state is seen in persons 13 to 25 years old. Infections in that age range increased 10 percent in 2011. That same year, persons 13 to 34 years old accounted for more than half of newly diagnosed HIV infections in Alabama.

With all we know AIDS, how is this disease continuing to make gains in any population group?

The answer to that question, unfortunately, is that there are those who are either ignorant to the threat the disease continues to pose, or those who are oblivious to their status. Are they carriers of the disease?

It is this area we applaud the efforts of Selma AIDS Information and Referral (Selma AIR), a non-profit organization designed to reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS among residents in the Black Belt region.

Saturday, this organization offered free HIV testing during an event they called “Know Your Status Rally.”

“One big reason people don’t get tested is because of the stigma that goes along with this virus. It’s fear,” Cedric Wherry, the Selma AIR education specialist for HIV and AIDS, said. “We tell them how it is contracted as opposed to how it is not contracted, so they can better protect themselves.”

Today, we can no longer be scared to know our status, rather there should be more fear continuing through life not knowing.

Thanks to the efforts of Selma AIR, there are opportunities — free opportunities — to know your status and help curtail the spread of this horrible disease.

And, unfortunately, Alabama’s Black Belt is an area where knowing your status is crucial.

“Though only representing 13 percent of Alabama’s total population, the Black Belt region reported 23 percent (3,574) of all newly diagnosed cases in 2010,” the 2011 Alabama HIV Integrated Epidemiolic Profile stated.

Those are numbers, facts and figures that can no longer be ignored.

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