Black Churches in Florida, Nationwide, Launch HIV/AIDS Testing Initiative Targeted Toward Black Community
Black religious leaders across Florida have launched a joint initiative between the state Department of Health and the African Methodist Episcopal Church to establish an HIV/AIDS testing site in at least one church in every county in an effort to address the high HIV/AIDS rate among black state residents, the Orlando Sentinel reports. In Florida, HIV/AIDS-related conditions are the leading cause of death for blacks ages 25 to 44, according to the health department. Blacks make up 14% of the state's population but accounted for 54% of all AIDS cases reported in 2007, state health department figures show.
Health officials for years have tried to encourage HIV testing through unconventional testing sites and community outreach efforts at laundromats, beauty salons and convenience stores, the Sentinel reports. However, black leaders typically have "been standoffish as far as the churches are concerned," James Williams, an AME church leader, said. According to the Sentinel, "Now, church leaders say people have to look past the stigma that links AIDS to drug use and homosexuality and understand that everyone is at risk." Twelve churches in Volusia County have signed up for the testing program, and testing sites in Orange and Polk counties are also in development.
HIV/AIDS increasingly is "becoming a part of religious life at black churches across the country," the Sentinel reports. Thousands of churches nationwide have HIV/AIDS outreach efforts, and a growing number have on-site testing available, the Rev. Makeba D'Abreu, director of Virginia-based not-for-profit The Balm in Gilead's domestic program, said. The Rev. Raphael Warnock -- a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta who recently underwent testing in front of his congregation -- said silence, shame and stigma have hindered HIV/AIDS awareness efforts in the black community. "Stigma has to do with culture and values," Warnock said, adding, "Ministers can do more to undermine the stigma piece than anybody else" (Jackson, Orlando Sentinel, 4/15).