Air looks to advance AIDS education

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 30, 2002

The numbers are startling. Especially if you are African American and live in this area.

While slightly less than 26 percent of the state’s total population is African American, according to 1998 figures released by a local AIDS prevention agency, more than 70 percent of the newly reported HIV/AIDS cases are among African Americans.

That is a story that Hubert Brandon wants told. He is the director of Selma AIDS Information and Referral (AIR). It is a non-profit organization that is in the trenches of the AIDS fight. It serves eight West Alabama counties: Choctaw, Dallas, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Sumter, and Wilcox.

“The biggest at risk group for the HIV/AIDS virus are African-American women,” said Brandon. “They make the majority of those infected.”

In existence since March 1995, one of Selma AIR’s purposes is to provide both educational, as well as beneficiary, services not only to

people infected with the virus, but the information to help prevent and stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.

“Selma AIR is currently working with 13 other Southern states to develop what is called the ‘Southern Manifesto,'” said Director Hubert Brandon. “The Southern Manifesto is: One half of all the people that are infected with HIV/AIDS in the nation live in the South.”

Besides distributing brochures and pamphlets that deal with HIV and AIDS related topics, Selma AIR also sponsors prevention education programs for youth in schools, churches, community and civic centers, and other various other organizations. The idea is to prevent the disease by speaking directly to those who could one day be at risk of getting it.

Certified speakers and educators speak on the prevention of AIDS, in addition to such topics as basic facts about the disease, and what your body goes through when you acquire HIV or AIDS.

The basic makeup of a program presented by the Selma AIR facility includes a pre-test, a presentation that teaches about HIV/AIDS, facts on the disease, teen responses, videos dealing with the disease, question-and-answer time with staff and those infected by the disease, and a post-test evaluation.

Selma AIR is expected to reach a minimum of 5,300 individuals in the eight counties over a period of 12 months with its program.

Selma AIR also works to help those who have already been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

“Two-thirds of the people in Alabama live in rural areas, and the counties that we deal with are located in this area,” Brandon said. “Most of these people don’t have a way to larger cities and don’t have access to medicines or facilities that are needed in order for them to survive. Selma AIR provides housing, transportation, food and shelter for these individuals.”

Selma AIR also offers free confidential HIV testing, but patients also have the choice to remain anonymous. In addition to various support groups, Selma AIR also offers both pre-testing, and post-testing counseling for the tester.

From the beginning, Selma AIR has cooperated with other agencies that work to benefit the community. Agencies such as Cahaba Mental Health, the Department of Human Resources, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Hospice programs, and CHASM, have all helped to contribute funds, services, and support to AIR’s goal-raising awareness and aiding the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Selma AIR currently serves 157,889 citizens in the eight counties. The counties that are served are some of the economically poorest in Alabama, with an average of 35 percent living below the poverty level. Unemployment is very prevalent in all eight counties.

For more information, or to volunteer your time, visit the organization at 1432 Broad Street, call them at (334) 872-6795, or visit the web site at www.selmaair.org.