A PBS documentary is putting the national spotlight on the problem of HIV and AIDS in Alabama's black communities. Endgame: AIDS in Black America debuted on Frontline this week. It showed how a small clinic in Selma is fighting a tough battle in the Black Belt. It's an area that has some of the highest rates of infection in the state and country.
"We've gotten a lot of phone calls, we got donations, which is fantastic for a small agency like us," said Mel Prince, executive director of Selma AIR, or AIDS Information and Referral.
Prince discussed the struggles of fighting AIDS in rural areas.
"Even though it was 2010, 2011 when we made the special, things haven't changed that much since 1995," said Prince, referring to the year she started at the center.
Prince said now that drugs that treat HIV are more readily available, even in smaller areas like Selma, the struggle now is an attitude of denial, and the stigma many in the black community still place on those who have HIV or AIDS.
"People are quick to judge others as opposed to looking at the full picture," Prince said.
Those who deal with the issue of HIV and AIDS in this area say they're dealing with two main issues: a lack of education about the disease and also the poverty that's rampant in the Black Belt. 69% of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS patients in Alabama are African-American.
"A person can know the information, know how the virus is spread and how it's not spread," said Cedric Wherry, the education specialist for Selma AIR. "But because of needing more money or a desire to have more money to do things that would perhaps put them at risk. And therefore poverty plays a tremendous part."
Wherry said until behavior and the attitude of denial changes, it will be tougher to combat the disease.
"African-Americans can no longer allow this virus to rule over them, they must take charge and control."
For more information on how you can get tested for HIV or on how to donate or volunteer for Selma Air, you can call 334-872-6795 or stop by their office at 1203 Voeglin Avenue in Selma.
Medical services for Selma Air are provided by Montgomery AIDS Outreach, and more information about that organization can be found here.
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