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AIDS Leaders
Address the State of the Epidemic in the Black
Community 

AIDS Leaders
Address the State of the Epidemic in the Black
Community 

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C. Virginia Fields, president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, pleads for change in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic nationally.

If there was one message C. Virginia Fields, president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, wanted people to take away from her speech last Thursday in New York City, it was the need for change in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic nationally.

"The face of the epidemic has changed. The economic status of its victims has changed. America's approach to addressing HIV/AIDS too must change," said Fields, the former Manhattan borough president.

Thursday night's speech was the first annual address by the NBCLA on the state of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the African-American community. Fields spoke to over a hundred people in the New York City council chambers about the need for testing and community outreach. While almost every seat was filled for the event, some attendees said it wasn't enough.

"If HIV/AIDS is the crisis that we just heard, this room should have been standing room only," said Monica Sweeney, an assistant health commissioner who specializes in HIV prevention. "In my other life, one person died from meningitis in [Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesant], and they called a meeting and it was standing room only. So we say one thing but the reality of how people are addressing it is different."

Sweeney said the LGBT community needs to change its own behaviors to stop the epidemic, especially concerning drugs and multiple sexual partners. "There's a cocktail on the street that is used by men who have sex with men. What public health message can go out to somebody who deliberately puts together three drugs that is going to make you not cognizant of putting on a condom and not care about not having on a condom?"

While Fields spoke mostly about the epidemic in the black community, she said the issues are just as relevant in the LGBT community.

The NBCLA routinely partners with the Gay Men's Health Crisis Center because, as Fields said, "we need to approach it on all fronts." The two groups are hosted a mobile testing van on Saturday in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

They're also teaming up to lobby for the passage of a national HIV/AIDS strategy. With Barack Obama in office, Fields said the NBCLA has a unique opportunity to changing national HIV policy, which would have three parts.

First doctors must adopt the CDC recommendation to routinely test patients aged 13-64 for HIV. Sweeney agreed that doctors have stigmatized HIV as much as anyone else, and state and municipal health laws should be changed. Fields also encouraged the passage of an amendment by Rep. Maxine Waters for HIV testing of inmates entering and leaving prison. Those who test positive when entering must receive treatment, education, and support. Finally, schools would institute comprehensive health education for students.

Fields said all of these goals are attainable with the election of President Obama, who announced a national HIV/AIDS strategy plan during his campaign. "The HIV/AIDS crisis is far from over, she said. "Fortunately, 2009 has ushered in a new and historic era of hope and change."

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