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Transcript: Why churches are key to the fight against AIDS

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(Locator: Nashville, Tenn.)

Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College: Meharry has an HIV/AIDS Center, and our HIV center has a slightly different focus from most of the ones at other academic health institutions because we’re focused on disparities in HIV. About 46% of all the people newly infected by HIV are African American even though we’re only 12% of the population. So the HIV Center at Meharry is focused on ‘why is that and what are some things we can do to lessen the disparity in AIDS?’

We also have some research along the lines of community engagement, and how do we identify trusted messengers to get the kind of prevention messages to the community that we need. And that is why we are partnering with the faith leaders to develop HIV prevention programs to be established in the churches.

Because people are not dying anymore of AIDS and opportunistic infections, I think the public has lost sight of the fact that this is still a serious problem. There are still about 50,000 people who get infected each year and about a million people are living with HIV.

So one of the things that we need to do as scientists, physicians and community leaders, is to make sure the awareness is still there, because this is still a big problem.

Recognizing that there are many, many churches in the African American community and that Meharry is tied to them, we decided to go out to the churches and work with the leaders to develop some programs of biology and messaging together and we call it the Spread the Word Coalition. And the idea is that if we can get the leaders of the churches to engage in the HIV conversation, that’s going to be really powerful given the reach they have in the community and how well they are respected by their members.

Having grown up in the church, I really understood instinctively that if we were going to do anything at all that was effective in the African American community, the churches had to be involved, there’s no way around it. And we are very excited about the work that we are able to do in that respect.