In preventing HIV and AIDS among Augusta's women and girls, full disclosure and honesty are needed among churches, the community and romantic partners, panelists at a forum said Sunday.
Several community health organizations attended the forum at Candler Memorial Library on the Paine College campus.
The panelists discussed prevention of HIV and AIDS, specifically targeting women and girls, as part of observances leading up to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
This year, 30 people have tested positive for the virus at the Richmond County Health Department on Laney-Walker Boulevard, said Sandra E. Wimberly, of the agency's projects office.
One-third were women, she said, with the youngest testing positive at age 17 and the oldest at age 64.
"It's time for us to get our heads out of the sand and live in the real world," Ms. Wimberly said. "This thing is infecting folks. And it's incumbent upon us to prevent it."
One place where it needs to be discussed is in the church, said the Rev. Macie King, an associate professor of religion and philosophy at Paine College and a minister at St. Mark United Methodist Church on Marks Church Road.
"A pastor has to create an open environment and a supportive environment," she said. "A lot of people in churches are afraid of it and don't want to deal with the issue."
The Rev. C.W. Joyner, the pastor at Broadway Baptist Church, agreed that there should be open dialogue on issues surrounding HIV, including the issue of men, mainly black married men, who have sex with other men. Some health officials say that is one factor in the spread of HIV among women in the black community.
"This needs to be part of the discussion," the Rev. Joyner said. "I'm hard-line about this, and a lot of folks have left my church because I talk about it."
Testing also should be encouraged, said Lynda Thomas, a communicable disease specialist with the health department. The test, she said, costs $18 at the health department, but no one will be turned away for inability to pay.
EVENTS IN AUGUSTA
Nov. 29-30: NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, panel-making workshops, Beulah Grove Resource Center, 5-10 p.m.
Dec. 1: "VOICES" Balloon Release, courtyard of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 605 Reynolds St., noon
Dec. 1: Closing program and candlelight march, Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel, Paine College, 6 p.m.
Source: Richmond County Health Department
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