Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Fellow's Farewell

Working for AACAA these past three months has been an incredible learning experience. I came to AACAA with a background in activism and community organizing, but not being well versed in HIV/AIDS prevention work. I wanted to work with AACAA because I wanted to learn more about HIV/AIDS for my own sexual health and so that I could share the things I would be learning with the black women around me. I was able to do this by holding critical dialogues with groups of fellow young black women. In these dialogues, we were able to build our collective wisdom and empower each other to take responsibility for our health and the health of our community.

Another powerful experience I had during my fellowship was the condom street distribution event. In this event, about 8 young black women came together and passed out several thousands condoms in the Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene areas one afternoon. Many people came up to us with pride and excitement, telling us how important it is to have young black people doing sexual health work.

From these dialogues and experiences, I’ve started reflecting on the need for grassroots approaches to public health. People, especially people of color, need to empower themselves to set their own health agendas and to be their own healers. As I further my community organizing in other capacities, I will continue to strategize ways of decentralizing knowledge about bodies and health and explore how popular education can intersect with community medicine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Condoms in Downtown BK

On Friday, November 12, AACAA sponsored a group of 9 African American female NYU students to distribute over 5,000 condoms to people in Downtown Brooklyn & Fort Greene. This distribution event was a follow-up from the Girl Talk AACAA held at NYU a couple of weeks ago. Passing out condoms on the street felt both empowering for the volunteers as well as for the community because at least for that moment, we were able to take sex and condom usage from being private, secretive topics to being a public issue. Many people stopped and thanked the volunteers for their efforts. We ended the day with a wonderful meal at Il Porto restaurant in Brooklyn, where we continued our discussion about sex and sexual health.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Girl Talk at NYU!

On Wednesday, November 3, AACAA partnered with New York University's Organization of Black Women to host our first "Girl Talk" with our new Winter Fellow, Ericka. About 20 African American female students at NYU came together for a couple of hours to openly and honestly talk about sex. The "Girl Talk" project is an effort to promote dialogue about sexual health and empowerment amongst African American women. Through dialogue, participants begin to build a community of women who can work together to learn from each other about sex and sexual health. Next friday, the students will be passing out condoms on the streets of Downtown Brooklyn and then having a dinner so they can continue their conversation about sex.

We are excited about hosting more Girl Talks in the future!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Outreach Kick Off Event

We are excited to launch our summer street outreach program and look forward to continuing to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in the District. Recent reports confirm that DC tops the list of cities that have been hardest hit.

This Saturday, June 6, from 1 to 3pm we're going to be conducting street outreach. Volunteers, both new and old, are welcome. We'll meet outside the doors of Ben's Chili Bowl, located at 1213 U Street at 1pm. Then we'll canvas the community to pass out free condoms and educational materials to DC residents.

At 3 pm, we will reconvene inside of Ben's Chili Bowl for lunch. The point of contact for Saturday is Tina and she can be reached at 908-447-6968 on the day of the event.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

AIDS Now a Black Disease

Black AIDS Institute Report Finds both promise and setbacks in fight against the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic

The historic election of Barack Obama, a congressional majority more supportive of the fight against AIDS, and a black America more engaged than ever before could create real and lasting change in the course of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, says a new report released by the Black AIDS Institute.

At the same time, 2008 witnessed great setbacks, particularly in the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Making Change Real: The State of AIDS in Black America 2009 lays out both the promise and the peril of this unique moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States.

The report includes data from a 2008 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study re-examining the size and depth of the U.S. HIV epidemic. Among the report’s key findings:
The U.S. epidemic is at least 40 percent larger than previously believed and growing by between 55,000 and 58,000 infections a year;
Black Americans represented 45 percent of people newly infected in 2006, despite being just 13 percent of the population;
Men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 53 percent of all new infections in 2006, and young black men were particularly hard hit.

“With our country facing so many challenges: two wars, a financial meltdown and the growing threat of environmental devastation, it may be tempting to relegate the AIDS epidemic to the back burner of national priorities,” said Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. “That would be a grave mistake.”

Data released last year reflects the racial disparity in AIDS deaths. In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, 7,426 Black Americans died from AIDS. While that is 1,253 fewer deaths than in 2005, blacks accounted for just over half of all AIDS deaths in 2006.

Phill Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, shared his insights with Kristen Clarke, for TheDefendersOnline:

Q: February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Why is it important to mark this day?
Wilson: AIDS in America today, is a black disease. Nobody wants to talk about that. Nobody wants to own that. But no matter how you look at it - through the lens of gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, level of education, or region of the country where you live, black people bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
Yet most of black America is totally unaware of the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic in our communities. National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day helps black people realize that AIDS is our problem. It provides a space and time to have honest conversations about how HIV/AIDS is affecting our communities and what we need to be doing about it.

Q: What are the statistics on HIV/AIDS in the Black community, and why is the crisis so stark?
Wilson: Black Americans make up less than 13% of the US population. Yet we are 50% of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, nearly 50% of the new infections, and 50% of the annual deaths. Over 30% of the new HIV cases among Gay men are black, 40% of the new cases among men, 60% of the new cases among women, and 70% of the new HIV cases among teens are black.

Q: How do rates of infection among Black folks in the US compare with other American groups?
How do they compare with Black communities in theCaribbean and on the African continent?
Wilson: Black Americans are at greater risk for HIV infection and AIDS deaths than any other racial ethnic group. AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women, aged 24-34. If black America were a country unto itself, it would have the 16th largest epidemic in the world. In some segments of black America, the AIDS epidemic is worse than the worse hit parts of sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean. Washington DC, the capital of the richest country on the planet, has an AIDS epidemic worse than Port-Au-Prince Haiti, the capital of one of the poorest countries on the earth.

Q: There was much talk years ago about the “silence” in black America about this growing pandemic. Has that silence lessened? Has there been more public discussion of it in recent years?
Wilson: Thankfully, the silence about AIDS in black America is ending. More organizations are speaking out and stepping up. The Black AIDS Institute is spearheading a national Black AIDS mobilization. All of the major black civil rights organizations have joined the mobilization and have developed strategic action plans to confront HIV.

Q: What kind of action is necessary to help change the tide and reverse escalating rates of infection in the Black community?
Wilson: As Calvin Rolark said “Nobody can save us from us, but us.” The only way to end the AIDS epidemic in black communities is to build a mass black mobilization [effort]. Each and every one of us must do our part, and we must demand our leaders, and organizations be a part of the effort to end the AIDS epidemic. We need to put pressure on our clergy and elected officials to do more. And, we need to take personal responsibility of our own health.

We have to get informed about HIV/AIDS. Knowledge is a powerful weapon in the war against AIDS. We need to get tested. There is no reason to not know your HIV status today. And knowing your partner’s status can save your life.

We need to advocate for greater access to HIV treatment and care, and make sure the people we know who are infected are in care. Finally, we need to put an end to the stigma. We do not have one life to spare. HIV/AIDS stigma has no place in our community. The stigma undermines our ability to fight the epidemic and the cost is black lives.

For more information go to or

The Promise of a New Era
While the challenges are great, black America is perhaps better poised to meet them today than ever before.

“The new Obama administration has vowed to take action on several fronts, including drafting America’s first comprehensive strategy to direct our efforts,” Wilson said. “But just as crucial, black America is engaged like never before. From individuals on up to our traditional black organizations,” said Wilson. “We’ve accepted the idea that this is our problem and we must find the solution.”

In 2006, 16 traditional black institutions launched the National Black AIDS Mobilization by signing on to the National Call to Action and Declaration of Commitment to End the AIDS Epidemic in Black America. The 16 institutions are not typical AIDS organizations. These groups, many of which have histories that span generations, were founded to meet a wide range of communal needs and concerns; they have now formally added AIDS to their work.

This report offers an update on the progress each group has made in fulfilling its pledge to act. Many of them have made great strides; others are just beginning their work. In all cases, far more resources and support are required from both public and private funders who seek to impact the AIDS epidemic. They include:
In 2008, two crucial groups joined the list of those that have completed strategic plans detailing how they will address HIV/AIDS: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League;
100 Black Men of America partnered with Aetna to create a website that members use as a healthcare management tool focusing on HIV/AIDS and other illnesses;
The National Council of Negro Women focused on HIV/AIDS at its national convention, a town hall meeting and an online survey that resulted in a series of recommendations for the next president, including a call for a national strategy to end AIDS;
The National Newspaper Publishers Association ran a 25-week series of HIV/AIDS opinion pieces that were published in 200 black newspapers each week.

The Report concludes with both recommendations for the President and his administration, as well suggestions to how individuals can get involved in fighting the AIDS epidemic a personal, community and societal level.

For more information about the Black AIDS Institute, and to download a PDF copy of the report, visit Making Change Real: The State of AIDS In Black America 2009

Read what actress/activist Gloria Ruben says about recommitting to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Monday, December 1, 2008


World AIDS Day 2008: Much accomplished, much to do

By Dr. Anthony S. FauciCNN Contributor

(CNN) -- When we commemorated the first World AIDS Day on December 1, 1988, we had little to celebrate.

The number of reported AIDS cases in the United States was nearing 80,000 and rising rapidly. Untold thousands more in this country were living with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Globally, AIDS cases already had been reported from more than 135 countries. An AIDS tsunami clearly was looming, but we had few defenses at our disposal.

For those of us caring for people with AIDS, it was a dark time. We had just one anti-HIV medicine in our pharmacies, AZT, a drug that the virus rapidly defeated by mutating and developing resistance. Lacking other medicines to slow the relentless replication of HIV and its destruction of a person's immune system, we did our best to help our patients by managing to the extent possible their AIDS-related infections and complications. But the life span of most of the patients was measured in months.

Two decades later, much has changed. An unprecedented research effort has led to more than two dozen anti-HIV drugs, more than for all other viral diseases combined. Taken in proper combinations, these medications have dramatically improved the prognosis for people living with HIV by increasing their life span by at least a decade and providing the possibility of a normal life span with continued therapy.

Scientifically proven prevention approaches -- education and outreach to at-risk populations, voluntary HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution, prevention of HIV transmission from mother to baby, harm reduction approaches for drug abusers, mass-media campaigns and the screening of donated blood -- have been deployed with great success in the United States and many other countries.

Innovative programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as the efforts of nongovernment organizations, have reached millions of people in low- and mid-income countries worldwide with HIV-related services, at a scale unimaginable a few years ago. And gradually -- but too slowly -- we have begun addressing AIDS-related stigma in this country and abroad.

Much has been accomplished in the fight against HIV/AIDS from scientific, medical and public health standpoints. However, now is no time to rest on our accomplishments or our laurels. The statistics of the HIV/AIDS pandemic tell us that much more needs to be done.

Around the world, a staggering 2.7 million people were infected in 2007 alone. Globally, 33 million people are living with HIV infection, most of them in the developing world. In the United States, more than 1 million people are living with HIV. And 56,000 more people are infected each year in the U.S., driving HIV prevalence rates in some of our communities to levels that rival those seen in sub-Saharan Africa. Gay and bisexual men, and African-Americans in general, are disproportionately affected. The true ground zero of the HIV epidemic in the United States is in those communities.

What is the way forward? First, even in the face of a world economic crisis, the global community must scale up the delivery of proven HIV therapies and prevention services. In low- and middle-income countries, less than one-third of people in need of anti-HIV therapy are receiving it, and only one in five people at risk of HIV infection have access to prevention services.
All around the world, access to HIV services -- and medical care in general -- remains a challenge in many poor communities. The global community must sustain our commitment to investing resources for medicines, clinics, as well as training and salaries for doctors, nurses and community health care workers to provide care for HIV/AIDS and other diseases in the settings where they occur.

Here in the United States, more than one-fifth of people living with HIV are unaware of their infection and not receiving appropriate care for their own health or the prevention services that would help them avoid transmitting the virus to others. A frequent scenario is that people learn of their infection status only when they have advanced symptoms of HIV disease, when their health may by irreparably damaged.

Now is the time for the medical community and policymakers to embrace U.S. guidelines for all Americans aged 13-64 to be tested in routine medical care. Barriers to implementation of HIV testing guidelines, such as state laws that mandate counseling with testing or not paying for routine medical care, must be removed.

Meanwhile, we also must continue to invest in the next generation of treatment and prevention modalities. Encouragingly, new means of preventing HIV infection are emerging from well-designed and well-implemented clinical research trials.

One exciting concept is pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, giving preventive doses of anti-HIV drugs to individuals who are at an increased risk of HIV infection. This still-experimental strategy is based on the concept that if HIV replication can be inhibited immediately following exposure to the virus, permanent infection might be thwarted. Multiple clinical studies of PrEP are under way in the United States and in populations around the world. Ongoing research to develop microbicidal gels or creams to be applied before sex offer the hope of people being able to protect themselves from HIV infection in situations where saying no to sex or insisting on condom use is not an option.

Finally, a preventive HIV vaccine remains the greatest hope for halting the relentless spread of HIV/AIDS. We must solve the mystery of how to prompt the human body to produce a protective immune response against HIV, which natural infection with the virus seems unable to do.

Historically, it has taken decades to find effective vaccines to combat most infectious diseases. Researchers usually experienced numerous setbacks and disappointments before reaching success, yet they persevered. Finding a safe and effective HIV vaccine demands an equally intense resolve.

On this World AIDS Day, we should be proud of the many scientific advances that have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But it is hardly a time for self-congratulation. Rather, we must understand that our work is just beginning. Developing HIV interventions and delivering them to the people who need them will require scientific and public health vision, and dedication from all sectors of society, in good times and bad.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Unconvetional Approaches to HIV Prevention

Most people know that condoms prevent the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Unusual campaigns to promote condom use are being launched in places where condoms are less popular. But in many parts of the world, condoms aren't very popular. Here are five novel campaigns launched by nonprofit organizations and condom companies to encourage wider use.

1. A ring tone to remember
In India, people stigmatize condoms and refuse to wear them because they believe only prostitutes must use prophylactics. Leave it one of the world's richest men to find a solution -- the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated money for a national condom ring tone.
An a cappella group sings "Condom, Condom" -- in the style of doo-wop like the contagious pop song "Barbara Ann" -- when one receives a phone call. Despite its bubblegum sound, officials hope that the people who have the condom ring tone appear smart and responsible.

Since the ring tone's August launch, more than 60,000 people downloaded it. Yvonne MacPherson, country director of the BBC World Service Trust (which the Gates foundation funded), sums it up best when she said to the Associated Press: "A ring tone is a very public thing. It's a way to show you are a condom user and you don't have any issues with it."
Right, nothing attracts the amorous attention like announcing loudly that you have a condom.

2. Perks you right up
Ethiopians claim they hate condoms because the smell of latex sickens them. To combat the odor, DKT International, a United Sates nonprofit, created coffee condoms. These dark brown condoms allegedly (I'm not testing the products) taste and smell like the favorite coffee of Ethiopia -- the macchiato, an espresso with cream and sugar.

One college student claimed the smell reminded him of the beauty of Ethiopian women (it's not clear if that's a compliment). These condoms bolster national identity because
Ethiopians claim to have invented coffee. DKT International also created flavored and scented condoms for Indonesia (durian fruit) and China (sweet corn).

3. Condom trees
In western Australia, the rate of HIV infection is the highest in the nation. When public health nurses were looking for an effective way to distribute condoms, someone suggested trees.
Young people in the countryside hang out under trees, making it the perfect place for nurses to hang condom-filled canisters.

Over 3,000 condoms are taken each month. Residents said grabbing condoms from trees was convenient and private. Additionally, officials in Australia piloted programs where Aboriginal teens sold packets of condoms and kept half of the proceeds. Official tout these programs as a success because STD rates have lowered, yet nurses wonder how they will convince people that they shouldn't have multiple partners. Maybe a monogamy tree is in the outback's future.

4. Scare tactics
Perhaps some safe sex programs skirt the issue -- unprotected sex causes HIV, which leads to AIDS and often death. It's not surprising that a condom company would resort to scare tactics. The Tulipan Company launched its "Be Careful" ads in Argentina.

Showing skeletons positioned in flagrante delicto, these ads make no bones about how important it is to wear a condom while engaging in coitus.
No word if the skeleton ads have had the desired impact, though the graphic skeletons appear more popular than recent Trojan ads, which depict men as swine.

5. Spray-on protection
Since his teens, Jan Vinzenz Krause struggled to find a condom that fit correctly. He thought the pursuit of the perfect prophylactic was hopeless -- until he went to the carwash.
Inspired by the spray-on soap and wax, the German Krause developed a spray-on latex condom, which he claims always fits perfectly and feels natural.
However, many men find the design off-putting; the spray-on condom comes in a hard phallic case.

Men slide themselves into the cylinder and layer on the latex, providing full coverage.
The Jolly Joe, as Krause dubbed it, frightened many men during the testing phase -- they only put the case on their fingers. (Spray on gloves anyone?)

Others felt the loud hissing wasn't sexy and the latex takes too long to dry -- three minutes.
Krause explains to Time, "It needs to be ready in five to ten seconds." So for now, Krause is waiting for a quicker-drying latex.