C-U Health Dept. focuses on AIDS in African American community

By Molly Rafter

The Champaign-Urbana Health Department, along with the Greater Community AIDS Project, is taking measures to help educate and inform the African-American community about HIV/AIDS.

Worldwide, 39.4 million people were living with HIV/AIDS and more than 4.9 million were infected with HIV in 2004 alone, according to estimates from the December 2004 UNAIDS/WHO AIDS epidemic update. The report also stated that approximately 40,000 people have been infected with HIV each year in the United States during the past decade.

The report noted that more than 50 percent of new HIV diagnoses made in the United States in recent years have been among African Americans. African-American women account for up to 72 percent of new HIV diagnoses in all U.S. women, according to the report.

“We work hard to try to educate actual risk targets in the community,” said Julie Pryde, division director of the HIV/STD/TB prevention and management program for the Champaign-Urbana Health Department.

Pryde said the health department informs at-risk targets by visiting different places around the Champaign-Urbana area.

“We go to places, such as Restoration Urban Ministries,” Pryde said. “We focus on informing men who have sex with other men and injection drug users,” she said.

According to the health department’s Web site, any men who have unprotected sex with other men, those who use intravenous drugs and share needles with other people, those who have a sexually transmitted disease, and those who have sex in exchange for money are all people that should be tested.

In addition to providing anonymous testing, the Champaign-Urbana Health Department works with the Greater Community AIDS Project (GCAP) to provide services to those living with HIV/AIDS in the community.

“This is the only organization that provides direct services to work with the population,” said Teri McCarthy, executive director of GCAP.

GCAP provides housing at the Champaign House to the homeless infected with HIV/AIDS.

“Residents can stay for up to 90 days and during that time, we help them to get stabilized so they can find permanent housing,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the project provides case management through the Shelter Plus Care program that is administered through the city of Urbana.

“The program provides rent and emergency funding of up to $400 to those who need it,” she said.

Gary Dunn, consortium project director for the Champaign-Urbana Health Department, helped explain how the case management works.

“We work with individuals with nutritional needs, housing needs and medical needs to help them become independent again,” he said.

Dunn also said the health department provides counseling to the people infected with HIV/AIDS.

In addition to providing housing to those infected with HIV/AIDS, GCAP also works hard to target the African-American communities in Champaign and Urbana.

“We are partnered with Sister Net, a group of African-American women who help us run a health fair every year,” McCarthy said.

The health fair, which includes the Soul Strut walk for AIDS and other programs to attract local African Americans, takes place annually on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.