A local church will make free HIV testing available during an afternoon program designed to boost understanding and awareness of the virus that can destroy a person’s immune system, making them vulnerable to deadly infections.
About 80 people came out for a similar event last year, according to Mary Taylor, spokeswoman for St. James AME Church. The church is partnering with the Denton County Health Department and the local chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, at the University of North Texas, and other community groups to host this year’s event from noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 20.
The church is located at 1107 E. Oak St.
Some of the people who attended last year weren’t from Denton, Taylor said. They came from nearby communities, as the distance may have afforded them some anonymity, she said.
While a diagnosis of HIV or AIDS doesn’t carry the stigma it did 30 years ago, “we still don’t talk about it here,” Taylor said.
The 2011 state surveillance reports show the HIV infection rate in Denton County was highest among young adults, ages 20 to 24, and African-Americans, which is consistent with national trends. Of the estimated 40,000 new HIV infections each year, more than 50 percent occur among African-Americans. The virus is the leading cause of death among young black adults, ages 25 to 44, ahead of heart disease, cancer and homicide.
Locally, many patients with HIV are treated at Health Services of North Texas. CEO Doreen Rue, who has been with the agency for 17 years, said the group’s job has changed as treatment has improved.
In the past, the clinic’s staff helped people die with dignity, Rue said. Today, with the help of antiretroviral therapy drugs, patients are living with the virus for many years.
The survivability removes some of the stigma of the disease, Rue said, but it also has desensitized people to the risk and impact of the virus.
“We see more women than we used to,” she said. “And the younger group [of patients] is still the fast-growing segment.”
The Sept. 20 event will include presentations on basic information about HIV along with prevention and treatment information. An expert panel will answer questions. Dallas-based AIDS Arms, the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS service organization in North Texas, will conduct free testing, with results available within minutes. Experts will be on hand to help those eligible sign up for health insurance.
The church will serve lunch to workshop participants and the first 50 people in attendance will receive gift bags, Taylor said.
St. James AME Church has been part of the Denton community for 140 years. The church was designated as a historic landmark in 1985.
Church leaders see the continuing workshops on HIV and AIDS as a vital community service, Taylor said.
For more information, call Taylor at 940-220-9054 or 940-387-1223.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
IF YOU GO
What: Building Powerful and Healthy Relationships: HIV/AIDS and testing workshop
When: noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20
Where: St. James AME Church, 1107 E. Oak St.