AIDS Isn’t Color-blind
Seaside group to hold vigil that highlights rising minority AIDS infections.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
The odds of being infected with HIV or developing AIDS shouldn’t hinge on the color of your skin. But they do. African-Americans today account for nearly half of all new HIV/AIDS cases in the US, even though they represent only 13 percent of the population.
Walter Washington, chairman of Seaside’s African-American HIV/AIDS Wellness Program, says it’s time that people became more aware of the devastation the disease is wreaking on minority groups.
“Seventy-two African-Americans are infected with HIV every day,” says Washington, who is helping to organize a candlelight vigil in Seaside on Feb. 7. “In the 1980s, people used to look at AIDS as a gay man’s disease, but it’s now spread to all facets of life.”
A Monterey County Health Department report shows that 523 people in the county were living with HIV/AIDS in 2004. The two largest concentrations of cases were in Salinas (190 cases) and Seaside (77 cases).
While the number of new AIDS diagnoses is declining, African-Americans remain the most disproportionately affected racial/ethnic group, with a rate of between two and three AIDS cases for every 10,000 persons.
Hispanics, however, now make up a majority of new HIV/AIDS cases, according to the same report.
To Washington, the two main culprits behind the high infection rates for African-Americans and Hispanics are macho cultural tendencies and a lack of awareness. That’s why he’s trying to get local African-American churches to help spread the word about HIV prevention. But he’s having a hard time at it.
“The thing that keeps them from talking openly is the fundamental [religious] belief,” Washington says. “But you have to forget that and face reality.”
Helen Tolerson, a member of the wellness program, agrees. An elderly woman, Tolerson heads to bars on some weekends to pass out free condoms.
“That’s where the young people are at,” Tolerson explains. “Today’s world deals around sex, whether we believe it or not. So we tell people to protect themselves.”