Berrien County ranks third in state for HIV casesPublished 10:34am Monday, February 22, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
Willie Mitchell thinks it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the area – and in the United States, for that matter.
Mitchell of Community AIDS Resource and Educational Services (C.A.R.E.S.) in Benton Harbor issued a “wake-up call” on the AIDS epidemic in the black community to a small audience at the Niles Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church Saturday.
According to Mitchell, Berrien County is third in the state in HIV prevalence (number of cases per 100,000 residents). There are 300 confirmed cases of HIV in Berrien, but Mitchell said for every confirmed case, there could be several people unaware they have the disease.
Mitchell also reported that although blacks only make up 14 percent of the population in Michigan, they account for 59 percent of the cases of HIV.
The numbers in the nation are similar. Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for more than 50 percent of the new cases of HIV. The disease is spreading eight times faster among the black community than among Caucasians. AIDS is the leading killer of black women between the ages of 25 and 34.
“HIV and AIDS don’t discriminate,” Mitchell said. “It affects anybody who engages in risky behaviors.”
Sharing of dirty needles and gay sex are two of the leading causes of the disease among the black community, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said it’s a disease that has been forgotten by the nation and completely ignored by the black community.
“We have a disease in our community that is devastating disproportionately to the black community, but we’re not talking about it,” he said. “We don’t talk about it as a community, because it’s one of those stigmas that they deserve what they got.”
Mitchell is working to build a community conversation about the issue to begin working toward protecting people from the disease.
“There was a time everyone thought it was just gay white men,” Mitchell said. “They mobilized, and they did things about it. They made an awareness campaign. We have not mobilized.”
After Mitchell spoke, a video titled “Out of Control: AIDS in Black and White” was shown, which is one of the few national news reports that brings this issue to light.
Then a roundtable discussion took place with Mitchell, Bob Cochran from the Berrien County Health Department and pastoral interns Meade Adams and Ron Smith.
Adams said the church’s involvement in the issue has been “lacking.”
“It’s important for clergy to mobilize and speak out,” he said.
Cochran believes it’s time for a needle exchange program, where people can trade dirty needles for clean ones, to begin.
“We’re dealing with people with a belief system different than us. I’m looking at the greater good,” he said. “I don’t believe in needles, but I believe in health.”
Mitchell said there is always a need for volunteers to help at C.A.R.E.S. For more information, visit www.caresswm.org.