More than 30 community leaders joined state Rep. Jewell Williams at his Philadelphia news conference last week to call for a “state of emergency” in response to the city’s alarmingly increasing HIV and AIDS infection rate.
Williams said that Philadelphia’s HIV rates are five times the national average, and the city’s new rate of infection is higher than New York City, historically known as the epicenter of the nation’s AIDS epidemic.
“Today I was joined by leaders in the religious, civic, medical, civil rights, youth and senior communities because they understand the severity of this epidemic — that we must rebuild a campaign to promote awareness and education on HIV and AIDS,” said Williams, D-Phila. “There are many serious concerns on the minds of Philadelphians – crime, poverty, homelessness to name a few. But HIV/AIDS has taken a back seat to all those social concerns, and it needs our immediate attention, particularly within the African-American communities of our city.”
Williams said Philadelphia infection rates are clear indicators that we are not doing a good enough job as community leaders in preventing new cases of HIV and AIDS.
“Just as H1N1, or swine flu, dominated the media, we need a full-out city campaign to educate people on how to prevent acquiring and spreading the disease and where they can get tested.”
In 2008, 24,570 Philadelphians tested positive for HIV or AIDS. Of those, 14,083 are living with AIDS and 10,488 are living with HIV. Philadelphia recorded the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS since the compilation and reporting of those statistics in the city.
“It is sad that after providing close to 30 years of HIV and AIDS education in Philadelphia communities and surrounding counties, we are still experiencing astronomical rates of infection and a lack of education on a disease that can soon wipe out a generation if we don’t act in a major way,” said Gary Bell, executive director of Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues, or BEBASHI. “But, it is also good that we have come together to raise awareness on this issue.
We reached a consensus that there is a need for improved HIV and AIDS education and prevention, especially in highly affected areas of the city.”
HIV and AIDS continue to be a major health concern in the U.S., but especially in the African-American community. African-Americans make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population, however, they account for half of the new HIV infections reported. And numerous studies suggest that many new infections are occurring among young African-Americans.
Karen Downer, who serves as chief financial officer of PFERIC, was also at Williams’ event today. She said her organization is a faith-based education and testing organization that is ready to go out and test anywhere.
“We have been working very closely with faith-based communities, and we are prepared to cover health fairs and community forums to spread the word about the importance of testing,” Downer said. “Last year, PFERIC tested over 116 people at the Susquehanna Community Festival and could have tested additional attendees if they had additional staffing.”
Temple University Health System provides confidential testing everyday in its emergency room.
“We have participated in several HIV and AIDS community outreach efforts with Representative Williams’ office and Hope Inspiration & Vision,” said Princess Graham, who is program coordinator for General Internal Medicine at TUHS and part of the hospital’s HIV/AIDS community outreach team.
Williams added, “There is no cure or vaccine for this disease, and that’s why it’s vital for the state and local leaders to make this a top social priority. I am also imploring all media outlets to cover this issue as they would any other health epidemic. Public service announcements, interviews and town meetings are desperately needed to shine light on a very dark and dismal issue.”