Selma AIR works for AIDS patients

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2003

People go to Selma AIR &045; AIDS Information and Referral Service &045; for all sorts of reasons.

Some are hemophiliacs. Some may have had blood transfusions. And some…well some are promiscuous.

AIR staffers don’t really care why you’re there, as long as they can help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Email newsletter signup

HIV/AIDS is a deadly disease, acquired mostly through sexual contact but also through blood transfusions or any exchange of blood from an infected person to another.

The HIV virus, the precursor to AIDS, wrecks havoc on the human immune system, giving normally benign viral and bacterial infections the potential to kill.

Since 1995, Selma AIR has been dedicated to fighting the spread of the virus through education and testing at their office on Broad St.

Every year, AIR goes into schools and other community functions, educating children and adults about HIV and AIDS.

The children are taught a regimen of total abstinence, while adults are schooled on safe sex and its importance.

The group also offers testing, via a simple swab of the mouth. The swab is sent to a lab and results are available four to five days later.

Before testing, Selma AIR staff members give everyone pre-counseling, hoping to curb potentially life-threatening behavior on their part.

They distribute condoms to adults during that time as well.

Mel Prince, AIR social worker, said, &uot;It’s an eerie feeling waiting for those tests.&uot;

After the results return, everyone tested receives a second round of counseling. If the results are negative, AIR counselors try to stress the importance of safe sex and monogamy. If a patient can’t seem to do either of these things, counselors suggest they get tested every three months.

AIR staffers always practice what they preach. Almost everyone on staff is tested regularly. &uot;I get tested every three months,&uot; said Webster. &uot;Before working here I knew nothing about HIV. I wasn’t into practicing safe sex like I am now. How am I going to be able to go out there and do my job if I don’t?&uot;

If it’s positive, AIR counselors have a harder job.

Usually, Prince takes over at this point and refers them to a doctor, as well as answer any questions she can.

Patients who qualify can get Medicaid for HIV/AIDS treatment. AIR refers them to a doctor who specializes in caring for HIV/AIDS patients.

The doctor runs several tests, to determine a patient’s viral load, allowing him to tailor treatment options.

Because of the nature of HIV, the virus can mutate drastically from patient to patient, limiting an individual patient’s treatment options.

AIR is a non-profit organization, and they receive much of their funding from government grants. A large portion comes from United Way donations, as AIR is part of the United Way organization.

Because of cutbacks on the state and federal level, some of the funding to AIR is in jeopardy, making the United Way an even more important part of its program.