Minnesota Looking to Raise HIV/AIDS Awareness Among State’s African Immigrant Population
Community leaders and health officials in Minnesota are trying to craft HIV prevention messages and HIV/AIDS education programs that will reach the state's African immigrant population, a task that is difficult due to the stigma surrounding the disease and homosexuality, the AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The Minnesota Health Department recently reported that HIV infection among African-born immigrants is rising -- 46 new infections were reported in 2001, compared to 28 new cases reported two years earlier. Only seven new HIV infections among African immigrants were reported 12 years ago. But health officials have found that there is a "silence" surrounding HIV/AIDS in the state's African immigrant community because many people "are bound by tradition and hold fast to religious taboos against discussing premarital sex and homosexuality," the AP/Star Tribune reports. Ribka Berhanu, an immigrant from Ethiopia who works at the Minnesota AIDS Project, said, "There's a lot of denial, a lot of fear. HIV is still a death sentence in Africa, so no one wants to talk about it." Tracy Sides, a state epidemiologist, added, "You can't just start handing out condoms without first increasing awareness. The average American has been exposed to the AIDS issue for years, but you can't make that assumption for African communities."
Using Local Media
Health workers are looking to disseminate HIV/AIDS messages through articles, radio broadcasts and television announcements that are translated into African languages. KFAI, a small community radio station in Minneapolis that broadcasts African-oriented news and talk programs, has produced public service announcements about the health care system and how to find health insurance. Ahmed Wassie, host of the KFAI program "Voice of Ethiopia," is planning to air in late July or early August a half-hour show discussing HIV/AIDS. Wassie said that he receives a lot of audience feedback when he mentions HIV/AIDS on the show. Most of the response is positive, and listeners are "glad I brought up the topic," he said, but he noted that some callers "try to blame me for bringing up stories and say that I am dragging the good name of Ethiopia through the gutter" (Aamot, AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/28).