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a761: South Florida grapples with spread of HIV/AIDS (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

South Florida grapples with spread of HIV/AIDS
By Gregory Lewis
Staff Writer

February 7, 2002

Ula Zucker remembers vividly her first day of AIDS and HIV outreach work
last June. She went to the Mango Festival in Deerfield Beach and was stunned
by the nonchalant attitudes about the disease, which is the No. 1 killer of
black people nationwide between the ages of 18 and 39.

But in South Florida, that statistic doesn't tell the whole story. The
latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in
2000, three of the top four metropolitan areas in the country for the number
of new HIV/AIDS cases among people aged 18 to 29 are Miami, ranked first;
Fort Lauderdale, ranked third; and West Palm Beach, fourth. Unlike Miami and
Fort Lauderdale, where the rates declined from 1999 to 2000, West Palm
Beach's rate increased.

As Zucker delivered information about AIDS at the Mango Festival, she met:

A woman whose six brothers and sisters all are HIV- positive.

A mother who had recently buried two daughters who had contracted AIDS.

>Several young men feeling immortal, who told her they didn't use condoms
>while having sex and believed, "I ain't going to get it. I know who I sleep
>with. I don't go out with dirty girls."

But she also met a woman, married 15 years, who has sex with her husband
only when he wears a condom. "I have a feeling he cheats on me," the woman
explained to Zucker.

She gave Zucker hope that minorities in Broward County could be educated
about how to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

The battle is big

But it is a battle of major proportions, say AIDS activists. AIDS is a fatal
disease, but one that is almost entirely preventable.

Today is National Black AIDS/HIV Awareness Day, and nowhere in the country
is awareness and education needed more than in South Florida.

"It's a sad thing," said Zucker, who works for REACH 2010 Coalition, a
national initiative of the CDC to cut disease rates in minority communities
by 2010.

The stigma of AIDS being a gay disease -- though that is not exclusively
true -- and the belief that victims did something to deserve contracting it,
such as using intravenous drugs or fornicating with dirty women or men, have
hampered prevention efforts and sent HIV rates soaring, activists say. And
that is particularly true among blacks in South Florida.

"We live in denial," said Gabrielle Tunnage, a community team leader for
REACH 2010. "We don't read. We don't ask the right questions of the right
people, like our significant others, and misinformation is killing us."

Statistics from 2000, the most recent year available, show that for every
100 white non-Hispanics infected with HIV in Florida, there are 572 blacks
and 225 Hispanics.

While blacks comprise 21 percent of Broward County's population, they
account for 51 percent of the county's reported AIDS cases and 61 percent of
the reported HIV cases.

Blacks living in Broward who were born outside the United States (mostly in
Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean island nations) make up 20 percent of the
county's reported AIDS and HIV cases.

Even more startling, the CDC estimates that of every three people infected
with HIV, one doesn't know it.

But Zucker said there are some signs of hope, at least in Broward: Of the
unmarried men aged 18 to 29 surveyed last year, 60 percent reported using
condoms, as did more than 50 percent of the unmarried women in the same age
group. But only 30 percent of unmarried women more than 30 years old
reported condom use. More than 2,000 people were surveyed.

"The prevention message is taking hold, and people are taking action,"
Zucker said. "But some are not, and they are infecting people."

Targeting minorities

Funded by the CDC through 2004, the REACH 2010 Coalition to Reduce HIV in
Broward's Minority Communities does daily outreach, focusing on 18- to
39-year-olds who are at highest risk of becoming infected.

The project has selected 12 ZIP codes as a target area. In those areas,
workers mingle and talk with people, offering practical AIDS information
packets, including condoms.

They are trying to scale a dangerous wall of silence.

"When you talk about AIDS, that's when the phones go the coldest," said
Caribbean radio talk show host Jean Jabouin of Mystik 1580 AM, WSRF. "Our
community is in complete denial. We're buying into the AIDS doesn't exist or
it was manufactured by the government [theory]."

But Tunnage said, theories aside, "you can look at the hard numbers. There's
not any place on the planet that has not been touched by this disease."

Marvin Dejean of Minority Development and Empowerment in Fort Lauderdale,
who is also doing outreach with the REACH 2010 project, said being diagnosed
with HIV or AIDS among Haitians is the equivalent of being marked with a
scarlet letter.

"Haitians are very closed about it," he said, explaining that clients will
tell counselors not to call their homes for fear that others in the
household will find out.

"We're still caught up in the idea that the disease is something very, very
shameful," Dejean said.

Haitians and other black immigrants won't get tested for fear they will be
reported to U.S. immigration officials and deported, he said.

The denial among blacks also extends to men who engage in homosexual
activity but don't consider themselves gay because "they were not the
receiver," Zucker said.

"In jail, a lot of brothers come out of there infected," she said. "The jail
doesn't give out condoms. They haven't been tested so they go infect others.
There's denial there. Who wants the shame [associated] with being gay?"

Infected females on rise

And another of the startling statistics is that black women are among the
fastest-growing demographic groups being diagnosed with HIV in South
Florida. In 2000, black women made up 75 percent of the reported AIDS and
HIV cases in Florida, according to the state Department of Health.

"We have to empower women to take control of their sexuality," Dejean said.
"They have to force the guy to have sex with a condom. They have to say, `I
don't want to have [unprotected] sex with you.'"

Efforts by REACH 2010 -- which is based at Florida International University
in Miami -- and community agencies such as Hispanic Unity, the Urban League
and Minority Development and Empowerment, along with the state Department of
Health, focus on educating minorities and trying to reduce the rate of

But Dejean said "it's a long uphill battle" to get blacks to stop ridiculing
those who contract AIDS.

"We must keep educating how it works in the body," said Donna Nelson,
regional minority AIDS coordinator with the state Department of Health. "But
the stigma really affects the work we're trying to do in the community."

Said Tunnage: "It's really sad that being uneducated does hurt. You can't
make a decision that will impact your life. It's not like it used to be when
you could [only] get pregnant or VD. The only cure for AIDS is death."

Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4203.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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