Local Experts Say Blacks Must Talk About HIV/AIDS by Roxanne Escobales

02/05/07
Alan Watts

Africa continues to dominate the headlines when it comes to HIV/AIDS. But a seminar at the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida, sought to raise awareness about the sexually transmitted disease in the Tampa Bay area – especially among the black population. WMNF’s Roxanne Escobales has more.

 

The City of Tampa’s head of housing and community development department, Sharon West, says most people know of the AIDS crisis in Africa.

 

ACT: “That has become very glamorous because…”

 

But despite new research suggesting a downturn in new HIV cases, West warns there’s an HIV/AIDS epidemic in our own community that doesn’t get discussed.

 

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West was one of three speakers at the lunchtime seminar on “AIDS in the Black Community” at USF’s Tampa campus. The university’s Institute on Black Life held the event as part of Black Emphasis Month. The message from the experts is: silence kills.

 

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Dorothy Nettles is a human services specialist in charge of the chronic disease program for Hillsborough County.

 

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Nettles has data that shows the black community accounts for around half the HIV/AIDS cases in Florida.

 

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Emerging from her data, Nettles says there’s a new demographic becoming infected with the immuno-deficiency disease: the over 50s. That age bracket tends to think that HIV is a disease for the young and promiscuous, but Nettles says every sexually active person needs to be tested, regardless of age.

 

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Tish Carlton is a registered nurse practitioner at St Joseph Care Clinic. She says another contributing factor to the high ratio of blacks with HIV/AIDS corresponds to the prevalence of black men in prison. One in three African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 is in the criminal justice system.

 

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Nurse Carlton brought an oral swab test that’s now used to check for infection rather than the traditional blood test. About 5 inches long with a spongey tip, the test takes skin cells from inside the mouth. Results come back two to three weeks later. Carlton says early detection is key.

 

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And, of course, a particularly vulnerable group needs to be educated more fully about sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV in particular – black teens, especially the girls. Out of the teenagers with HIV, 61 percent are female. The City of Tampa’s Sharon West says when her daughters were in high school, she used to arm them with condoms.

 

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The experts at the seminar urged people who want to know more about testing and HIV/AIDS resources to phone the state-run information hotline: 2-1-1.

 

February 7th is Black AIDS Awareness Day. For details on how to take action, visit the National Minority AIDS Council website at nmac.org.

 

Roxanne Escobales, WMNF News, Tampa.

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