Today, Kevin English will be talking about an issue he wishes he knew little about --- AIDS.
But wishing away the deadly virus and ignoring the risks of getting it are how he ended up HIV-positive, he says.
"At age 23, I thought that it would never happen to me," says English, a 38-year-old counselor and testing specialist for National AIDS Education and Services for Minorities, whose headquarters are in downtown Atlanta.
English's group and other area organizations will be out today spreading the word that the epidemic hasn't gone away --- especially for African-Americans, who continue to have the nation's highest AIDS transmission, prevalence and death rates. Similar events are occurring nationwide.
Black men are nearly nine times more likely than white men to have AIDS, and black women are 23 times more likely than white women to have AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2002, blacks accounted for 54 percent of all new cases of new HIV diagnoses yet made up about 12 percent of the U.S. population.
In Georgia, more than twice as many blacks than whites have contracted the disease since 1981, according to the Georgia AIDS Coalition. From 1981 through September 2003, African-Americans had 17,405 cases; whites recorded 9,012 cases and Hispanics, 632 cases, coalition statistics show.
"People are surprised by the numbers, particularly in the African-American community," says English, who found out he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, when he applied for his marriage license. "But once people know someone with the virus, it opens their eyes and they realize how widespread it is."
Although new drugs are helping people with AIDS live longer and healthier, blacks are more likely to get tested in the late stages of the disease when treatment is less effective, health educators say.
So learning how to avoid being exposed to the virus and getting tested for it routinely remain the best defenses against AIDS.
"We want folks to get out and get tested, to know your [HIV/AIDS] status and to get involved," said Hazel Dean, who heads a new CDC health disparities office based in Atlanta. "More and more, the face of HIV in America is black."
"We need to reduce the stigma of the disease," she added. "We need people to speak out about their behaviors."
SisterLove Inc., an Atlanta group that's been devoted to women and AIDS for 15 years, delivers a unique outreach strategy to college sororities, faith-based groups and other groups who request the seminar. It's called "Healthy Love."
"Women feel safe and comfortable in the environment we create with other women, so they're more likely to discuss sexuality and their relationships and ask questions about sexually transmitted diseases," said Dazon Dixon Diallo, SisterLove founder and president. The group also runs a transitional home for women with AIDS, and it established a program in South Africa five years ago.
"People in Africa are extremely aware of HIV and AIDS," Dixon Diallo said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg. "The issue is, there's no resources to deal with it. In America, we have the resources, but the message still has to get out there: 'AIDS is not over.' "
Copyright 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution