World Aids Day Observed Locally

Contributing: Ramonica Jones

Forty million people around the world now live with the AIDS virus. A big problem, but one that two Stephen F. Austin State University social worker students plan to address in future careers.

Clay Brooks is a HIV-AIDS Prevention Specialist at Health Horizons, an AIDS awareness and treatment center. "We'll draw your blood and we'll talk about ways you might reduce your risk for HIV," says Brooks as he prepares to conduct a HIV/AIDS test.

Brooks is also a social work student with Melissa Stanberry. They're graduating in May to pursue careers in the prevention of AIDS. Clay is learning the job in rural East Texas has unique challenges. "In urban areas you have clubs that you can outreach at, you have social events that are more acceptive. In rural areas, with Health Horizons, we go door to door, and we really hit the targeted people like car washes and project areas, health fairs, so our sources for reaching clientele are limited."

Successful testing is conducted at free testing events like the one conducted on World Aids Day by Planned Parenthood in Lufkin. Dozens of East Texans got tested for the virus that causes AIDS. The clinic in Lufkin offered both 'finger-prick' tests and what is called the 'ORA sure' exam. The needleless test usually costs $75 and provides results in less than half an hour.

Many of the clients tested were people of color. African Americans make up 13 % of the U.S. population, but more than 50% of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.

Michelle Green with Planned Parenthood said, "The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one million U.S. individuals are infected with HIV, so the first step of prevention is simply to know your status. Testing is so important. It's the first step to come in, know your status, and be able to receive treatment or stop the infection by knowing yourself that you are infected."

Melissa Stanberry is learning HIV/AIDS has no boundaries.   Stanberry said, "In my readings and my research, I found that more of the causes are coming from heterosexuals and even married couples; the men not being truthful with their wives." Or the other way around.

Health Horizons has about 300 clients from a 12 county region. They range in age from infants to senior citizens. Much greater numbers are reached through education programs. Funding is always a concern for director, Dr. Wilbert Brown. "We're getting to the end of the prevention grant. The new request for proposal has not come out. We're hoping to be successful on that. It will come out any day now"

Brown hates to think of the possibility of grant denial, but instead is encouraged by up and coming social workers who show interest in a cause that continues to trouble East Texas.

Health Horizons is planning another prevention health fair for December 8th in Nacogdoches. It will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Spring Hill Daycare on Highway 21 East. Free Wal-Mart cards will be presented to those who take HIV tests.