The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the Arkansas Delta prevents people living with the disease from coming forward and makes it difficult for the state to help the population, a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences researcher told the Arkansas HIV/AIDS Minority Task Force earlier this week, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
Katharine Stewart of UAMS' College of Public Health told the task force that there is a high level of stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the black community, adding that community leaders need to become involved in the fight against the disease. She added that sexually transmitted infections and HIV cases are disproportionately higher among blacks compared with whites, with HIV/AIDS rates among blacks throughout Arkansas recorded at levels five times higher than those among whites. Stewart also said that people living with HIV/AIDS and other STIs often are low-income drug users who do not use condoms. In addition, some women living in poverty engage in commercial sex work and do not have the power to negotiate condom use, Stewart said.
The task force should examine recommendations it might make in terms of changing sex education in the state, Stewart said, adding that sex sometimes is discussed by children as early as in the second grade and that it is important for children to receive adequate information from their parents and teachers rather than misinformation from their peers. Stewart said she is studying best practices for providing education to blacks living in rural Arkansas who do not believe they are at risk of HIV and refuse to use condoms. The task force was created by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (R) in 2007 and will hold its next public forum on Sept. 22 in West Memphis (Blomeley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/9).