Local efforts for National Black HIV Awareness Day

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SARASOTA - All across the country, there have been efforts to highlight National Black HIV Awareness Day.  It's part of the initiative to stomp out the disease.

"I don't want to see anyone else die foolishly" said Valerie Buchand. 

Valerie is one of many volunteers in the community who's been working to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS. "I've had family member to died in results of HIV, simple because they didn't take care of themselves," added Valerie.

And Thursday, Valerie's efforts were highlighted to commemorate National Black HIV Awareness Day.  According to recent statistics of the black community is among the hardest hit by the HIV epidemic.

"The black population in the state of Florida counts for 49% of the HIV infections, verses 43% of the total infections in the United States," said Michael Kehoe the coordinator of Care Outreach Services. 

Local the figures are just as startling, in the Sarasota-Bradenton area 24% of the population infected with HIV are black.  Blacks also make up about 60% of all the AIDS related deaths nationally.

"It doesn't have to be that way with todays medicines and todays treatments a person who HIV positive can live and die of old age not of HIV or AIDS," added Kehoe.

But Kehoe says the stigma of the disease has kept many in the black community from getting tested which, in turns contributes to its spreading. "They keep it under raps until its too late, they seek medical attention when its too late and by then they have already approached full blown AIDS and most of the medicine that is out there is not going to help."

So to get the word out Kehoe had his mobile outreach unit has been all over the city in hopes of getting people tested.  But Valerie says it hasn't been an easy process. "The challenge is getting the people to be tested wether they are or are not it's good to find out, but a lot of people wont because of that fear."

Several other organizations have launched a week long initiative which includes passing out condoms to promote safe sex as well as getting folks tested.