Of the 127,150 women currently living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, 64% are black
Stacy Smith Segovia:
AIDS kills more young black women than anything else.
Not car wrecks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its March 2007 report, "HIV/AIDS among Women."
Based on statistics from 2004, the most recent available, the CDC reports HIV infection is "the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 25-34 years."
It's shocking, but true. And the Rev. Sherri Scott isn't stopping long enough to be shocked.
She's taking action.
Saturday, in observance of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, three ministries at Greater Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church will come together for a day of AIDS education and free, confidential testing.
"Among women and girls, the rates are rising," Scott says.
Scott, an associate pastor at Greater Ebenezer AME Church, says that while March 10 is a day set aside nationwide to educate women and girls about the risks for contracting HIV, men and boys are also welcome at the church, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
People may come at 10 a.m., stay all day, and pay $10 for a boxed lunch. Or they may come simply for a free, confidential HIV blood test.
Limited child care will be available, but parents are encouraged to bring their preteen and teenage children with them to hear the presentations by Nashville CARES (Council on AIDS, Resources, Education and Support) and several other HIV/AIDS support organizations.
"Men are invited. And unfortunately, a lot of children are sexually active," Scott says. "A lot of times parents don't want their kids to hear certain things, but their kids are doing things."
Women are significantly more likely than men to contract HIV during vaginal intercourse. Of the 127,150 women currently living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, 64 percent are black.
The illness, once thought of as a disease of the young, transcends age barriers, Scott says.
"We have seen a rise even in senior citizens, because of Viagra and Cialis," Scott says.
HIV, the infection that causes AIDS, is spread through sharing of intravenous drug needles or unprotected sex. Use of condoms dramatically reduces the risk of transmitting the virus, and a new antimicrobial cream that kills the virus is currently being tested.
The CDC reports that among populations of women who have sex exclusively with other women and do not use intravenous drugs, the risk for HIV infection is very low.
Based on available research, the CDC theorizes that relationship dynamics — such as financial dependence on men or lack of knowledge about men's high-risk behaviors — create many of the roughly 10,000 new HIV diagnoses among American women and girls each year.
Scott, whose own ministry, STARS (Spiritual, Talented and Resourceful Saints) for Jesus, is one of the sponsors of Saturday's workshop, says the motivation for her is personal.
"I had a very dear friend that died from AIDS," she says. "I didn't feel like I did everything I could to help him."
Scott's friend died 10 years ago, long before Scott opened her heart and entered ministry.
"I was called to the ministry five years ago," she says. "I know I haven't always been the holy righteous person I should be. But for the grace of God, it could be me. I'm going to be tested, too."
Scott says her friend, who was gay, struggled with how he would tell his father and brothers, who were football-playing jocks, that he was gay and had AIDS. Scott told him, "Tell your mother and sisters first, and they'll help you tell your father and brothers."
They did just that. Scott says she met with some resistance locally while trying to plan Saturday's activities, and that's why experts from Nashville were called in to speak.
"Even though church people don't want to talk about it, church people are having sex. Children are having sex. Old people are having sex," she says. "We can't ignore it."
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