Although National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day occurred on Feb. 7, a local agency says HIV education and testing in the African-American community remains a priority throughout the whole year.
“The day is a symbol,” says Jeff Bachar, executive director of the Western North Carolina AIDS project. “It's a good symbol to and a way to connect with the national efforts that the Center For Disease Control and other agencies are doing.”
Funded by the CDC, National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day began in 2000. According to the CDC, Black Americans represented 14 percent of the US population in 2009, but accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections that year.
Locally, Buchar notices a similar trend. “For the Buncombe County region, the African-American population is at about 8 or 9 percent, but I would say around 30 percent of our clients are African-American,” Buchar observes. “There is a huge health-equity issue there, [one] that I think has a lot of causes. A lot is connected back to long-term racism, poverty and access to services. We're working with a whole bunch of organizations to try and meet those needs.”
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness day emphasizes the importance of getting tested for HIV infection. For free, Buncombe county residents can get tested at WNCAP. The process takes about 30 minutes from start to finish to get the result. If the rapid test shows a positive result, the individual should then undergo a blood test to confirm, he explains. Buchar assures clients that “a negative result is definitely negative” with the rapid test.
“Rapid testing relieves a lot of the anxiety, and it is also nice because the person doing the testing is trained to do [it and knows] how to share results with folks,” Buchar says. “If there is a preliminary positive, there is always a lot of anxiety, and [we] can put them at ease as much as possible.”
WNCAP offers an HIV support group on the first and third Tuesdays each month at 6 p.m. For more information, call WNCAP at 252-7489.
— Megan Dombroski is a freelance writer, UNCA graduate and health advocate.