Palm Beach Church Battles HIV/AIDS in Minority Communities
United Deliverance Church of God in Christ in West Palm Beach has mustered a "little army" to fight HIV/AIDS in Palm Beach County, garnering attention from drug companies and government officials, the Miami Herald reports. United Deliverance Pastor Rev. Lewis White mortgaged his house to purchase and revamp an $18,000 bus, which now brings food, clothing and other gifts to communities in the county. The vehicle also carries the Red Shirts, a group of volunteers armed with condoms and pamphlets on the spread of HIV among minorities that they distribute to passers-by. The church also has an HIV testing program, which aims to "remove the stigma" of screening and encourages community members to be tested, according to Sandra White, Rev. White's wife and the head of the church's HIV testing program. HIV-positive individuals and those at risk for the disease can also receive counseling at the church, which advocates "lifestyle changes" as "indirect ways to prevent" HIV infection. "The goal is abstinence, but if you're not going to be abstinent, there are precautions you need to take," Jemelia Stringer, a nurse practitioner, said. By targeting minority communities in Palm Beach, White and his group of volunteers are "reaching deeply into troubled areas" throughout Palm Beach County, which ranks fourth among Florida's 67 counties in reported HIV cases, and where HIV ranks as the leading cause of death for black males and females between the ages of 25 and 44. Attracting Attention The church's efforts to spread messages of HIV prevention and testing caught the attention of pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb, which on Saturday gave United Deliverance $35,000 to expand its campaign. The Whites plan to use the money to buy a building to house "an all-purpose community center." A recent $49,000 grant from the CDC will cover the cost of the bus' gas and supplies, and will also be used to hire staff for the resource center and the bus at night, when White's "target population" -- drug addicts, prostitutes, teenagers and homeless people -- "wander[s] the streets." If White's efforts continue to succeed, they could influence a 23-member state task force that will offer recommendations in February to the governor and the state Legislature on how to reduce the risk of HIV in minority communities (Bhatt, Miami Herald, 11/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.