‘Sistas’ spread message about HIV/AIDS awareness
By Eloísa Ruano González, Orlando Sentinel
The “sistas” brought out pompons, sang and danced Saturday to celebrate their one year together. The focus of their festivities might have been taboo and grim for outsiders. After all, they were talking about HIV and AIDS.
But for the Sistas Organizing to Survive — SOS — the rally was a chance to break down myths and educate black women about the realities of HIV and AIDS in their community. More than 50 women who attended the event at the Plaza Theatre in Orlando were urged to get tested and help prevent spread of the disease, which has been a leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 44 in the state for the past 15 years.
“It hasn’t hit home how big this issue is,” said Linda Bailey 51, of Orlando, a member of the SOS advisory council.
One in 68 black women in Florida is living with HIV or AIDS. However, many women are unaware they are infected, said Debbie Tucci, coordinator for the Orange County Health Department’s HIV/AIDS program.
Kathy Walker, 40, of Lake Mary has met several people who have been infected by HIV/AIDS. Walker, manager of the Orange Health Department tuberculosis program, said some women have a hard time persuading their partners to use condoms.
Young “sistas” performed realistic scenarios during the rally to give attendees a look at how AIDS can spread. They played the roles of a faithful girlfriend who gets infected by her cheating boyfriend, a promiscuous girl afraid to get tested and a 9-year-old who loses her mother to AIDS after a blood transfusion.
Hope Dorsey, a comedian at Bonkerz Comedy Club in Altamonte Springs who emceed the event, said she gets tested annually.
Dr. Kevin Sherin, Orange County Health Department director, said some blacks lost faith in the medical community after the 40-year Tuskegee syphilis study, which intentionally denied treatment for poor black men who were infected with syphilis. The experiment began in the 1930s and was aimed at learning what syphilis does to a body.
“There’s fear in the health system, and there’s fear in the government,” Sherin said. “That history is still [alive] in the African-American community.”
He urges people to find out if they have HIV or AIDS and to seek treatment. In Orange, 10,000 people — roughly 1 percent of the population — live with HIV or AIDS, Sherin said. And about a quarter of them don’t realize it.
There are several federal programs that can help pay for expensive medications. Although there is no cure, he said people can live long, happy lives.
“It’s like treating diabetes. You take your medication — it’s fine,” Sherin said. “Look at [basketball legend] Magic Johnson, how well he’s doing after all those years” living with AIDS.