HIV Prevention Conference Pushes Safer Behavior, Knowing Status

Akmal Muwwakkil | 9/9/2009, 5:05 p.m.

Earvin €Magic€ Johnson, former NBA star, opened the plenary session of the 2009 National HIV Prevention Conference, in Atlanta, Ga. Aug. 23-26, with the theme €Promoting Synergy Between Science and Program Innovation and Action to End the Epidemic.€

The conference was sponsored by 45 organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Johnson encouraged the hundreds in attendance at the session to influence their pastors to help get people tested.

€We all have to get Black churches involved,€ he said. €If we do, we will see change quickly.€ Johnson continued by stating €One constant in the Black community is the church.€

Johnson, who has had HIV for the past 20 years, challenged the gay community, as he issued a warning to young, gay, Black men to protect themselves.
€Now young, Black, gay men are more open than before; they are accepted by their peers. We need to teach them about safe sex and tell them what can happen, because when you€re young, you think you are invincible.€

In his statement, Johnson also referenced teaching Black children about sex and sexual behaviors to reduce the spread of HIV.

€In a population with less than 200,000 people, 15,000 are living with or diagnosed with HIV,€ explained Tiffany West-Ojo from the District of Columbia Department of Health.

West-Ojo moderated a session entitled €A Modern HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the Nation€s Capitol.€ West-Ojo said that in addition to those diagnosed, €another one-third to one-half of the population may be unaware of their infection status.€ The statistics are further evidenced by the three percent of all District of Columbia residents living with HIV. West-Ojo made reference to the fact that in mid-2006, D.C. was the first city in the country to implement a routine HIV testing policy, encouraging residents to get tested. The policy also asked health care providers to make HIV testing a part of routine care.

West-Ojo also shed light on shifts in the HIV infection among demographics. Among the more alarming shifts were that 70 percent of District residents aged 40 and older are disproportionately impacted with HIV. Of the 70 percent, 4.3 percent are African American, 1.9 percent Hispanic, and 1.4 percent White.

Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, detailed the links between HIV infection and substance abuse.

€It cannot be minimized, the use of drugs like methamphetamines, crack, heroin, and sharing needles, with special practices that increase the likelihood of HIV transmission. The key issue for us in the substance abuse community should be KYS (pronounced kiss) (Know Your Status), if you kiss someone you want to make sure they know their status. Inappropriate alcohol use and illicit behaviors, unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners increase the risk for sexual assault and unintended pregnancies, these are things we have to keep in mind,€ Clark said.