Getting the HIV Message to African Americans

HIV/AIDS affects a disproportionately high number of African Americans. And traditional methods of fighting HIV don't seem to work in the black community. So local activists are trying a grass roots approach. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Here in Houston it's estimated one in every 40 African Americans is infected with HIV. So the Centers for Disease Control organized a meeting with local leaders. Several dozen people attended at a restaurant in the Third Ward. Marlene McNeese Ward is with the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. She says HIV awareness campaigns aren't working.

"Traditionally there has been distrust in the African-American community with public health efforts and initiatives based on history. So many blacks are distristful of what messages may come from the government and from public health and so what we know is that the most powerful voice in the African-American community comes from other types of leadership."

Houston's leaders are asked to spread the message about HIV. Houston Rapper Bun B sat near Pastor Edward Montgomery, of the Abundant Life Cathedral. Hip Hop Artist J Xavier was close to Mayor Bill White. CDC Deputy Prevention Director Janet Cleveland says it's clear the traditional prevention models will not work alone.

"We need to be able to reach this community in partnership with others. We are asking communities to come together: faith leaders, business leaders, media, entertainment, education agencies to come together and make sure that within their own individual sectors people are being educated about this disease and that they're getting the tools and the knowledge that they need to help prevent acquisition of HIV."

People at the meeting signed commitment cards. They pledged to promote awareness, communication and testing. But former Houston Councilmember and longtime activist Ada Edwards seemed discouraged after the meeting. She says it takes more than talk to make a difference.

"Could this happen every week or every weekend or whatever. We've got to get something in this city going where it's going all the time and not just waiting for somebody to do it. But it's got to be more than a good idea."

It remains to be seen if this good idea will turn into results. Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.

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