Two Oakland based organizations, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Inc. and advocacy group California Prostitute Education Project (CAL-PEP) are leading efforts to reduce the rate of new HIV infections among young people in Oakland with free testing and a billboard campaign dubbed “Sistahs Getting Real about HIV.”
Despite a significant reduction in new HIV infections among other demographic groups in Oakland, the rate of infections among young African American women and a group the Centers for Disease Control classifies as “men who have sex with men” (MSM) continues to rise, according to the California Prostitute Education Project.
“We want as many people as possible to come out and get tested,” said Cathy Adams, the Committee Chair for 100 Black Women, adding, “Every year we find that a lot of new people come to get testing, and if they are not educated on HIV/AIDS we provide the education. One day and one week is not good enough to get the word out, but we are getting it out.”
The free HIV testing session will be held today, June 28, between 4 and 8 pm at a community grill-out to be held outdoors between Mead and Market Streets in Oakland.
“For African Americans, we have been in a state of emergency since 1998,” said Jamila Shipp, a program coordinator at the California Prostitute Education Project. “At least 60 percent of the new cases of HIV in Alameda County are in Oakland, and more than 50 percent of cases are among African Americans.”
Shipp said CAL-PEP launched the billboard campaign in partnership with the National Coalition for 100 Black Women in an effort to roll back the stigma against getting tested and raise awareness in the Oakland community. “We launch billboard campaigns once a year in locations where people are at a high risk of contracting HIV and conduct awareness campaigns, testing and other events around the billboards,” Shipp said.
Beginning last week, 20 billboards have been erected between Oakland and San Francisco as part of the campaign, with most of them in the Oakland metropolitan area.
“The majority of new HIV cases are impacting young gay MSMs, young black women. Our campaign not only focuses on these groups, but encourages other groups in the community to get tested,” Shipp said. “People assume that HIV only affects people ‘over there,’ and yet all it takes to get infected is having unprotected sex with one infected person.”
Shipp said the stigma against getting tested means that many people remain unaware of their HIV status, which leads to a higher risk of transmitting the disease.
“At the end of the day, HIV is 100 percent preventable and people should go and get tested and not make assumptions about their partners. We encourage people to empower themselves and get tested regularly,” Shipp said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that nationally, rates of infection are high among white men who have sex with men at 11,400 estimated new infections for the year 2009, followed by African-American and Hispanic men who have sex with men at 10,800 and 6,000 new infections for the year 2009 respectively. Heterosexual African-American women are the largest subpopulation reported as most affected, with an estimated 5,400 new infections in 2009.
Today’s free HIV testing event will be held at corner of Mead and Market Street, Oakland. More information here.