HIV AIDS Stigma and education

HIV Outreach Network Urges People to Reach Out, Educate

HIV Outreach Network Urges People to Reach Out, Educate

By Katie Kustura
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

One Daytona Beach man has never met his niece and nephew, and the reason might surprise you. Gary Richardson’s sister won’t allow him near her children because he is HIV positive. ”This is the stigma we have to live with,” Richardson, 52, said Saturday at the first community outreach event by Outreach Community Care Network, “and there’s no excuse for it, none.”

About 100 people attended the event at the John H. Dickerson Community Center throughout the day, taking in speakers, educational presentations and performances.

Richardson, who is a member of the Positive Champions Speakers Bureau, has been working with Outreach since April as a patient advocate and shared his story at the event.

“We want to bring the community together,” Richardson said. “We need to get those people out there who are not only infected but affected by this disease and let them know there are services, there are people they can go to.”

Throughout the event, Outreach workers educated attendees on various HIV- and AIDS-related issues and explained the services available from Outreach.

Richardson, who was diagnosed in 1990, explained how the time period affected his experience.

“When I was first told, I was devastated,” he said. “At that particular time, there wasn’t really a whole lot of knowledge about HIV or AIDS.”

Despite the availability of information now, Outreach workers understand that people won’t necessarily retrieve the information on their own.

The neighborhood the event was held in has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in Volusia County.

About a third of the roughly 1,300 HIV and AIDS patients live in the 32114 zip code, which includes mainland Daytona Beach and the Midtown neighborhood.

Cue Sampson, a medical case worker who’s been with Outreach for eight years, believes the speakers had the greatest impact among those who attended.

“You never know who’s positive,” Sampson said. “Just looking at them, you would never know.”

Though she was pleased with the turnout, she hopes to see even more at next year’s event.

“It’s very important that they get out and understand this disease is in their community,” Sampson said.

Sampson also said she would like to see middle school and high school students better educated on the subject.

Wanda Edwards, who has lived in the community her entire life, agreed.

“We’ve got to keep pumping (the information) to the kids because they’re the future,” Edwards said.

As another effort to preserve future generations and others in the community, attendees could get tested for free at the event.

“A lot of people, because of the stigma and discrimination that goes on with people who have HIV, they’re scared to even find out if they have it,” said Nicholas Harris, a prevention specialist who has been with Outreach more than three years.

Richardson made sure to emphasize other important factors in dealing with the disease besides education.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out and touch someone who’s HIV positive,” he said.

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