AIDS Epidemic hitting women
AIDS Epidemic hitting women
By Kimberly Edwards

AIDS... A word not often heard in minority communities. The image perceived includes such stereotypes as white, gay and male. However, the face of AIDS is changing. More than ever before, AIDS is spreading into those communities at a faster rate than ever before, and the African American community is taking the hardest hit.

"I want to show the world how to live with AIDS. It's the best thing that could have happened to me because I had given up on life, and I started living once I found out."

MARCYA OWENS,
diagnosed with AIDS

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Marcya Owens, a recent graduate of Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college in Atlanta, found out she was HIV positive during an annual checkup at the hospital. Owens, knowing she was pregnant, took the news hard.

"I believe it could happen to me, but wouldn't happen," she says. "I want to show the world how to live with AIDS. It's the best thing that could have happened to me because I had given up on life, and I started living once I found out." Owens took the diagnosis as a sign that she should start creating awareness for the disease.

In 1998, more African Americans than any other racial group were diagnosed with AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In fact, the CDC says it is the leading cause of death among blacks ages 15 to 24 and 60 percent of newly infected women are also black. With a population of only 12 percent, they make up 35 percent of all U.S. AIDS cases and 43 percent of new diagnoses.

AIDS is a growing problem among other minorities. Hispanic women, along with African American females, make up less than one-fourth of the U.S. population -- but together they account for 75 percent of all reported cases.

Deborah Fontaine, coordinator of the outreach program for AID Atlanta, a non-profit organization, says there is one big reason why the disease is still a stigma in the African American community. "Black folks are leery of the government." Also, she says, their culture considers homosexuality to be immoral, and to most it is still a "gay disease."

"Black people don't discuss HIV and AIDS because they still think it won't affect them," Fontaine says. "Communication and prevention are the keys to solving this epidemic. Black people need to realize this and open their minds to what is going on out there -- it is killing us off."

"Communication and prevention are the keys to solving this epidemic. Black people need to realize this and open their minds to what is going on out there -- it is killing us off."

DEBORAH FONTAINE,
coordinator of the outreach program for AID Atlanta

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As part of an initiative to confront the AIDS crisis, some communities are opening up. Recently in Atlanta, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display along with workshops that included well-known individuals like Coretta Scott King. The main goal of the initiative was to foster awareness of the disease as a public health issue, encourage young people to get testes and support HIV prevention programs.

The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative toured such colleges as Hampton Institute, Howard University, and the Atlanta University Center, which consist of Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and Morris Brown College.

At a rally on World Aids Day, December 1, Dawn Johnson of Planned Parenthood in Atlanta spoke to youth about HIV/AIDS and passed out condoms to college students. Johnson, a 1998 graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta who has been working in the health arena since high school says, "The best way to prevent this disease is to not get at all."

The government is also getting involved. The Congressional Black Caucus in conjunction with the CDC plans to award $39 million to prevention programs in minority communities. Janet Cleveland, assistant director of capacity building at the CDC says these stigmas have influenced the spread of the disease.

"Most (African Americans) feel that only those people (drug users, homosexuals, and poverty-stricken) will get it," she says. "This epidemic is growing among women, and many children are going to be orphaned by it. It is destroying complete families."

Related information:
AID Atlanta
Women & AIDS
Youthhiv.org