Selma AIR fights AIDS

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 24, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

She lay quietly on the sofa – moving only to adjust the blanket that covered her, but Selma AIR officials were there to help.

“We went to a crack house to get her,” said Stephan Mambazo. “We are the only AIDS service organization in Alabama that still does house calls.”

Mambazo, the HIV/AIDS Case Manger and Educational Coordinator for Selma AIDS Information and Referral (AIR), said that the woman – who is addicted to crack cocaine – was recently diagnosed with HIV.

“We took her out of the house, got her cleared with the Department of Public Health and at some point today – if all goes well – we’ll be taking her to Birmingham to go into drug treatment,” he said.

Situations like this are all too common for Mambazo and his Selma AIR co-workers.

Since 1995, the non-profit organization has provided HIV/AIDS services for residents of Dallas, Choctaw, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Sumter and Wilcox Counties.

“Coming here gives a person the opportunity to get confidential testing and good education,” Mambazo said. “We will bend over backwards and do whatever it takes to get people those services.”

This year, there have been a total of 161 documented cases of HIV/AIDS in Dallas County. Many more, however, go undetected and untreated.

In support of National HIV Testing Day, Selma Air will conduct free HIV screenings at Elmwood Church, GWC Homes and The Selma Mall’s old Dollar Tree location.

“The first and primary benefit in getting tested through our organization is that there is no blood involved,” Mambazo said. “The test is done very simply.”

The OraSure test – which screens for HIV antibodies – is conducted by swabbing the inside of the cheek.

The testing kit is sent to a laboratory and results are usually ready within four days.

Mambazo said that OraSure is 99.98 % accurate – the same as a traditional blood test.

“Everyone always thinks that it’s the gay white population – that it’s their disease,” he said. “No, it’s not a gay disease, it’s not a black disease, it’s not a white disease – it’s a human disease.”

Selma Air’s screenings will be held on Friday, June 24 at Elmwood Church from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, June 25 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at GWC Homes and Monday, June 27 (National HIV Testing Day) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Selma Mall.

“Everyone always think of Montgomery or Birmingham – the big cities,” Mambazo said. “But the reality is that HIV is booming in rural Alabama.”