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When It Comes to AIDS, It's Black and White
Black communities like Harlem in New York City have borne the brunt of the AIDS pandemic for years. Government efforts have had little effect, but one grassroots organization is moving the needle.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic's beginning and that disparity has deepened over time. Although black Americans represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 44 percent of new HIV infections. Nowhere is this distinction more evident than in New York City's oldest black neighborhood, Harlem. In fact, Harlem has one of the highest concentrations of AIDS in the country.
Federal, state and city government have all failed to bring black rates of HIV infection in line with the nation as a whole. But one small organization is having success.
The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLACA) enlists local black leaders to its cause. "We learned that people on the ground know far more about how to get that message out," says NBLACA's president Virginia Fields.
Fields enlists local community leaders as missionaries for her cause of fighting HIV/AIDS and other diseases that disproportionately affect communities of color. By partnering with them and funding their events, NBLACA draws big crowds.
One of her partners is Reverend Patricia A. Morris of Harlem. Reverend Morris provides free screening each month for HIV and Hepatitis C. NBLACA provides a barbecue. If you get your blood tested, you get a free meal.
After only 20 minutes, and some chatting up with your neighbors, your test results come in. Volunteers connect those who are positive with medical professionals and set up follow up consultations. Deborah Levine is NBLACA's representative at this event and points out that, "the cost of a hamburger is a small price to pay to know whether or not you have HIV and AIDS."
"Not only do people come back on a monthly basis," Levine says, "they bring their friends and family. That's really key.
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