BATTLING A COMMON FOE 

Three groups unite to host HIV/AIDS conference.

As of the end of December 2000, 774,467 AIDS cases in the U.S. had been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Shelby County Health Department reported 554 new HIV cases and 238 new AIDS cases for 2001, bringing the total number of cases here to 5,257 and 2,774, respectively.

With those numbers steadily increasing each year for certain demographics, especially African Americans and women, three local organizations have combined to educate the community about the epidemic.

The African-American Pastors Consortium (AAPC) and the Regional Medical Center, which have hosted the HIV/AIDS Leadership Conference for six years, will be joined this year by local chapters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (DST).

"DST, Inc., recognizes the devastating effects that the HIV virus has had on the lives of African Americans," says Charlotte Freeman, chair of the Program Planning and Summit V Committee of DST. "Our international program, Sisters for Life, emphasizes and advocates prevention, intervention, and research in the area of HIV and African-American women.

"Women are becoming affected at disproportionate rates in the Memphis community," she continues. "The activities implemented during this week represent the very essence of our sorority's cardinal virtues and programmatic thrusts: displaying compassion, encouraging education, embracing fellowship, and honoring community service."

All 900-plus chapters of DST, Inc., including the international chapters, have been mandated by the national headquarters to observe an international day of service on March 9th dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The week of conference events begins Sunday, March 3rd, with a candlelight march and healing service, continuing through the week with a pastors' education seminar and professionals' education seminar. The events culminate Saturday, March 9th, with a youth rally and gospel fest.

"It is the goal of the collaborative to reach as many people as possible in this community regarding the devastation of the virus HIV, which causes AIDS," says Carole Dickens, AAPC education director/consultant and conference coordinator. "This is a disease, [which], with the proper education, is 100 percent preventable."

Seven years ago the pastors' consortium convened to address the high rate of infection and disease among African Americans. It began with the effects of substance abuse, tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, unprotected sex, and improper eating habits. The group's mission grew to include AIDS education and prevention, while providing services such as spiritual counseling, agency referrals, and HIV testing.

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