High rates of HIV and AIDS among African Americans in Tampa Bay listen03/27/09 Seán Kinane
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HIV and AIDS rates are so high among African-Americans in the Tampa Bay region, that a New York-based group is opening its first southern office here. The Tampa Bay affiliate of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS was officially installed today.
Lepena Reid, from Tampa, does not know how long she has been living with HIV, but she says her life “took a down slope” after she was attacked and raped when very young.
“It’s been a journey. There are ups and downs. There are points that you don’t want to continue on. But then there are reasons that you know that you have to.”
Reid spoke Friday at the opening reception for the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS of Tampa Bay, or BLCA, at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa. She hopes to inspire people to take action to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.
“I hope that they hear a voice. A voice that says to break the stigma…. We all have to bond together to find a solution.”
For 20 years BLCA has fought against AIDS in the African-American community, especially by organizing clergy. Calvin Butts is their national chair.
“It’s a tragedy. And here in Tampa, blacks are 15% of the population yet more than 50% of the AIDS cases.”
C. Virginia Fields is the President and CEO of the National BLCA. She is the past president of the Borough of Manhattan, and ran for mayor of New York in 2005. Fields says the reason BLCA is opening an affiliate in Tampa is “because the epidemic is here and it is growing.”
“There is no cure for AIDS, but through getting educated, getting tested, getting treated if needed, and getting informed and involved, we believe that we can turn this around in the African-American community.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, African-Americans accounted for 45% of AIDS cases among Florida men and 71% of cases among women in 2008. The AIDS rate among black women was 20 times higher than among white women. But many infections are avoidable, according to Emile Commodore, director of the Florida Office of Minority Health.
“The most important thing about prevention is to know your HIV status. Because if you’re not infected then you should continue to do those protective things to avoid getting infected. And if you are, then you should protect your partner and others from getting the infection.”
The rate of HIV is 3.48 times higher in African-American males in Tampa Bay than in white males, according to 2007 data from the Florida Department of Health.
Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins is Pastor Emeritus of St. Lawrence Catholic Church, the receptions’ host.
“We have to also teach the people about prevention. To bring them up in strong values. It’s a long-term process, but it’s God’s work.”
BLCA’s national director of affiliate services, Gayle Sampson-Lee, says she hopes the Tampa chapter will pressure elected officials to put proportional funding toward programs that help groups most affected by AIDS.
People can get help through the Hillsborough County Health Department. Jim Roth is their HIV/AIDS program coordinator.
Michelle McKinney is youth education services coordinator for the Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan.
The new BLCA group of Tampa Bay is chaired by W. James Favorite, pastor of Beulah Baptist Institutional Church. He says it’s time for African-American churches to speak up to prevent the spread of HIV and to help those with AIDS.
“Ever since the first incident of AIDS, we have been pretty much silent. And we notice that the numbers are continuing to mount. The incidents are getting higher and it’s time for the church to speak out.”