Residents can learn more about HIV and AIDS, and be tested for free, at an event planned for Sept. 21 by St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Mason Rice, pastor of St. James, said church leaders have been discussing and planning the workshop for more than a year. In addition to offering free testing and materials, “Building Healthy Relationships” will also include expert presentations to help people get the information they need to understand the disease.
Rice said he believes the church has an obligation to be a part of the solution. A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS still carries a stigma with it, even though the disease is much better understood today than it was in the early 1980s, when a large outbreak emerged and media reports initially linked the disease to the gay community.
“We have all the information, but for some reason, it’s not getting out,” Rice said.
Pastoral assistant Mary Taylor said the featured speakers for the two-hour event will include Judith Dillard, a health educator with New Bethel CIC Church of Fort Worth, who is HIV-positive.
Taylor said Dillard’s story helps remind people of two key concepts: that anyone can become infected, and that the disease can be treated.
Dillard became infected with HIV after her husband was unfaithful to her. Although he was diagnosed himself, he did not tell her. The virus is transmitted primarily through unprotected sex and needle-sharing.
With medicine, Dillard has lived with the infection for more than 20 years, Taylor said.
Managing the disease is not much different today than managing diabetes, according to Teri Johnson, community outreach and volunteer director with Health Services of North Texas, a federally qualified health center that began by offering health care and case management services to patients with HIV and AIDS.
“The medicines have come very far,” Johnson said.
But unlike diabetes and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and hypertension, there are few campaign pictures of HIV survivors surrounded by loving families, Taylor said.
“People are dealing with it quietly,” Taylor said. “And that’s why the church can be a compassionate place to go and get information about the disease.”
In the latest Texas surveillance report, state health officials found that African-American women were more likely to be diagnosed with HIV late than any other group. Health officials consider an HIV diagnosis late when AIDS onset comes within one year. Between 2005 and 2011, 57 percent of black women were diagnosed late, compared to an average of about 34 percent of all victims being diagnosed late.
Among Hispanic women, 26 percent were diagnosed late, and 13 percent of white women were diagnosed late.
Also included among the speakers at the Sept. 21 event are Marie Brown of the Denton County Health Department; Ben Calloway of Health Services of North Texas; Diana Cuellar of the Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse of Dallas; and Kelly Richter of Gilead Sciences.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
IF YOU GO
What: Building Healthy Relationships: HIV/AIDS Workshop and free HIV testing
When: noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21
Where: St. James AME Church, 1107 E. Oak St. in Denton
Details: Free gift bags to the first 50 attendees. The event also includes health literature and care materials.
For more information: call 940-387-1223.