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Conference to address black women and HIV/AIDS

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by Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle

blackwomenTony Wafford has taught his three daughters that when they go on a date, they need to be prepared: They carry a credit card, cash for a cab, a cell phone and a condom.

Young black women, he tells them, make up a strikingly disproportionate amount of HIV and AIDS cases in the United States. HIV infection is the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those aren’t statistics you ignore.

Wafford, director of health and wellness for the National Action Network, the Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights group, is the keynote speaker today at an HIV/AIDS conference about how and why black women should protect themselves – from arming themselves with condoms to practicing ways to talk about safe sex with their partners.

“You’ve got to start the conversation,” Wafford said. “You’ve got to talk about condom usage. And if he ain’t feeling condoms, you’ve got to work out your exit strategy – have him take you home.”

In Alameda County, women make up about a fifth of all new AIDS cases each year and of those women, about two-thirds are black, according to the public health department. The county has 150 to 200 new HIV infections every year.

The conference, organized by the Oakland chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, is focused on two issues that might seem contradictory: first, to convince women that they must take special precautions to protect themselves, and second, to let them know that an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence.

The reason both issues are important, conference organizers say, is that women must address the stigma associated with HIV before they can talk openly about the risk of infection with their partners.

To a large degree, black women are more likely to become infected than white women because they don’t fully realize their risk, Wafford said. They may not know that their boyfriend is also having sex with men, for example, or that he was exposed to HIV in prison.

There’s also a reluctance among black women to talk frankly about sex with their boyfriends or even close girlfriends, said Roxanne Hanna-Ware, who counsels teenage girls in Oakland about safe sex and building confidence.

Women may be hesitant to ask if their partner has been tested for HIV or nervous about suggesting condom use because of the implication that they or their partner is infected, she said.

Just as important is recognizing that people with HIV can have long, healthy lives, said Dr. Malcolm John, director of UCSF’s 360: The Positive Care Center.

“Some people don’t want to know that they’re positive. There are issues of stigma and self-worth. But testing is important, and getting care is important,” John said. “It’s important for the community as a whole.”

Preventing disease

What: “Sistahs Getting Real About HIV/AIDS” is a daylong conference on black women and disease prevention organized by the Oakland chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Where: Linen Life Gallery, 770 E. 14th St., San Leandro

When: Today, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

What else: Free HIV testing

Cost: Free

For more information: links.sfgate.com/ZHSZ

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Written by Symphony

July 25, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Health/Fitness

Tagged with , , ,

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