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Thursday, August 13, 1998

Black AIDS rate prompts discussion

The Commercial Appeal, August 13, 1998
By Pamela Perkins

The disproportionate rate of HIV cases and AIDS-related deaths among black people prompted a recent meeting of local health care officials, patients and patient's families.

About 35 people met recently at the Memphis Health Center, 360 E. H. Crump, to discuss the severity of the disease in the black community.

The discussion, "Focusing on Females and HIV/AIDS," was hosted by Dr. J. Jarrett Clinton, a Public Health Service Region 4 health administrator from Atlanta.

Clinton said he came to Memphis "to understand what's behind the numbers . . . why the HIV epidemic is greater among African-Americans and what to do about it."

Black females make up 23 percent of the 3,141 Shelby County residents who were reported with the HIV virus from 1992 through March 31 this year. White females make up 2 percent. Black males make up 56 and white males make up 18 percent.

AIDS is the main cause of death of black men and women ages 25-44.

Clinton later said there was "a lot of energy" in the discussion. But, "it's got to be translated into some action."

The group discussion noted that the disease is a taboo subject among most black residents. Therefore, the general black community does not know how dire the situation is.

"Anything taboo is tough to deal with," said Allen Ball, chief executive officer of the Memphis Health Center. But, he added, "the scare is when these men are being macho" and having sexual relations with several women at the same time.

The center provides care for pregnant women with AIDS. But Ball is trying to get funding for the center to provide comprehensive health care for all with the disease.

Another obstacle is cultural barriers between the black community on one side and prevention and education groups on the other. Novella Smith-Arnold, chaplain of We Care Inc./Kid Care, said most inner-city blacks can't relate culturally to advertising campaigns put together mostly by whites.

They also agreed that there's a lack of money to implement programs, a poor relationship between health care entities, and lack of leadership from churches on this issue.

Clinton called AIDS "enormously misunderstood" because some people just don't understand that "it's so easy to get (via) sex and so hard to get it any other way."

Some strategies he outlined after the discussion included keeping patients well-informed about treatment and changing attitudes in the black community toward the disease.

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Edition: Final; Section: Neighbors; Page: CC3
Copyright (c) 1998 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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