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AIDS hits home

Dallas County ranks 10th in state in number of cases

By Dale James / Selma Times – Journal

Sunday is the 15th annual World AIDS Day and, according to Janice Robbins, the AIDS epidemic is far from over.

Robbins is the HIV coordinator for Public Health Area VII, which encompasses eight counties within Alabama’s Black Belt.

In cooperation with the Black Belt HIV Prevention Community Planning Group, she spends much of her time educating community groups on the threat posed by HIV and AIDS.

“We go to health fairs, make presentations and try to educate the community on what they can do to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS,” Robbins said. “We also go to the schools.”

The Black Belt HIV Prevention Community Planning Group will host a luncheon at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Dallas County Health Department, 100 Sam O. Moseley Drive. The luncheon will include a presentation on the impact of HIV and AIDS in Dallas County and address what can be done to battle the disease locally.

Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., along with members of the City Council, health officials, faith and community leaders, and individuals living with HIV/AIDS will be in attendance.

At 5 p.m. the same day, a community service of worship and candle lighting in memory of or hope for those living with AIDS will be held at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Some 209 cases of AIDS have been reported in the last two years in the eight county region covered by Public Health Area VII. There were 171 reports of new HIV cases in the same period. HIV is the precursor to getting AIDS.

“HIV is the virus,” Robbins explained. “AIDS is the disease.”

Dallas County has the 10th highest number of reported AIDS cases in the state with 92.

“Those figures are holding steady,” Robbins said, “although we have seen a steady climb in the heterosexual population in the last two years.”

Robbins said there is still a stigma attached to contracting AIDS that prevents many people who are at risk from seeking medical attention early on. “Many people are afraid to even be tested,” she said. “People are reluctant to even talk about AIDS.”

That is due, in large part, to AIDS initially being stigmatized as a disease contracted mainly by homosexuals. Thanks to a concerted education effort, that stigma is slowly fading.

The disease is most often passed on through having unprotected sex, sharing needles, or coming into contact with blood. An infected mother can also pass the disease onto her newborn child.

“Everyone is at risk,” Robbins said.

Although African-American males comprise only 13 percent of the population at large in the United States, they account for 40 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases.

Robbins said the planning group offers free testing, counseling and information.

“There’s not cure,” she said. “But this is one disease that’s 100 percent preventable.”