SARASOTA - CARES Outreach Services reaches out to the community about the disproportionate rate of infections in various communities.
The CDC finds one out of five persons infected with HIV do not know that they are infected, and another study finds that African Americans comprise the ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States. A range of factors- including stigma, discrimination, and income play a roll in why testing is low in this community.
Michael Kehoe, conducts workshops, hands out pamphlets and distributes condoms at various locations in Newtown. He is trying to reach a community most affected by the virus.
Ashley Law, who attended the workshop said, "In the African American community we tend to have little secrets and be ashamed to even have an HIV/AIDS virus"
Her friend Stephanie Huffman attended the CARES workshop. She said the stigma is so great in her community that people who test positive wont tell you or get tested in the first place. "We tend to spiral away from what is affecting our community by just ignoring it," she explained. "And right now it's really taking a toll on our young children as well as our older adults."
Kehoe said that HIV is no longer the death sentence that is was in the early eighties, and that this may part of why people aren't getting tested or taking precautions. "Kids nowadays, people now days think, well, if I get infected I'll just take a pill. He added that there is discrimination and because of that, if someones is positive, they may not tell you.
He expanded, "You do lose friends, people stay away from you when they know that you're HIV positive ."
Law says that she want to see the community come together to make a difference. "We have rallies for everything else, we lined up on Martin Luther King selling food and you know what I'm saying celebrating other things but their not celebrating the fact that we need to go get tested."
This was a perfect opportunity to do something that I had not done in years and needed to do. I walked into the CARES van, held out my finger and got tested.
The test for HIV isn't painful, its a small prick of the finger and you get your test results within fifteen minutes or less.
Mine were negative.
Both Law and Huffman said they will bring what they learned today back to the community and if it helps even one person then its worth it.
Michale Kehoe said that for him, running CARES Outreach Sevices isn't a job, its a passion.
For information on HIV testing and education go to: http://www.caresoutreach.org/