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Group targets AIDS education

More than 40 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the United States are infected with HIV. That’s only the ones who know.

“The virus is so large, it’s a major ordeal,” said Cedric Wherry, education specialist for Selma AIDS Information and Referral, Selma AIR.

Wherry and the United Way are working together to educate residents in Choctaw, Dallas, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Sumter and Wilcox counties about HIV and AIDS. Selma AIR provides free and confidential HIV and AIDS testing to those 18 and older, educational programming with students fifth grade and up, transportation to medical centers, dental/medical care, food/clothing for clients and a clinic four times a month.

“We’re trying to keep clients from coming in the door, but if they have to, then we’ll help them,” Wherry said.

HIV testing is offered with either Orasure, which gives results in two days, or Oraquick, which gives results in 20 minutes. Both confidential tests are administered with an oral swab by the Dallas County Health Department.

“There’s no need for people to not know their status,” Wherry said. “People tend to believe HIV and AIDS effects only a certain range of people. We have clients from their teens to 60s.”

The age groups most affected by the virus are teenagers and young adults ages 14 to 25, African-Americans, and people more than 50 years old, according to Wherry. He believes these groups have an increase in HIV cases because teenagers trust people too quickly, listen to music and see movies that promote sex; African-Americans are in denial about infection within the community and have a lack of testing for the virus; people more than 50 years old have a high rate of divorce and sex pills such as Viagra.

Funding from the United Way is designated for Dallas County, about $2,000 per year. All the funding is used for education purposes, mainly to buy educational materials such a brochures.

“We do the very best we can with the limited funding,” Wherry said.

Montgomery AIDS outreach works with the program to serve the more than 135 patients of the area with a full service check-up and will make the proper referrals to specialists.

“Our patients do not have to pay,” said Mel Prince, executive director. “The only out of pocket expense is co-pay.”

Selma AIR also offers support groups for both the “infected and effected,” Prince said.

Wherry wants to educate people about prevention. He believes people are aware of HIV, but not necessarily educated enough to understand ways to avoid it.

“There is no cure for HIV,” Wherry said. “But thank God it is 100 percent preventable. No one has to get it.”

“They go out into the schools and help provide education,” said Jeff Cothran, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County United Way. “None of the pamphlets are free so we help buy them to get them into the hands of the community.”

Cothran and the United Way will continue to fund this program as long as possible.

“As long as the disease is with us we have to keep the vigilance,” Cothran said.

Contact Selma AIR at 872-6795 or 1-800-486-7591 for more information.