Focusing on S. Dallas

Wiley says South Dallas AIDS Walk designed to target message of HIV awareness to a different community

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Auntjuan Wiley, right, and Jai Makokha
Auntjuan Wiley, right, and Jai Makokha

Dallas County has the highest HIV infection rate in Texas, according to county health officials, and some of the highest morbidity rates in the county are in two zip codes: 75215 and 7521o.

Both of those zip codes are in the South Dallas area, and yet, that area remains dolefully underserved when it comes to HIV/AIDS education, outreach and awareness efforts and HIV/AIDS services, according to longtime AIDS activist and educator Auntjuan Wiley.

“When it comes to HIV services and awareness and outreach, we focus on Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff. South Dallas always gets missed,” Wiley said this week. “And the only medical service provider for people with HIV in South Dallas is the Peabody Health Center.”

That’s why, when he was named executive director of the new Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation, Wiley immediately set out to find ways to fill that gap. And when he heard about the idea for an annual South Dallas AIDS Walk from Anthony Chisom, he decided right away to get involved. The first South Dallas AIDS Walk is scheduled for March 19, 2011.

The lead-up to the walk began last Thursday, Nov. 4, with a kick-off party that included Dallas City Councilwoman Carolyn Davis, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson and more. Wiley’s co-chair for the walk is AIDS activist Jai Makokha.

Wiley is quick to stress that the South Dallas AIDS Walk is not meant to compete — either for participants or funds — with AIDS Arms’ LifeWalk, held each year in October in Lee Park. The South Dallas event, he said, is targeting a whole different audience.

And the walk “isn’t just all about the Anthony Chisom Foundation,” Wiley added. “Some of the funds will come to us, yes. But we have other beneficiaries, too.”

Those beneficiaries, he said, include The Afiya Center, which focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and reproductive health for women and girls; Welcome House, which provides housing and services primarily for African-Americans with HIV/AIDS; the Ugieki Foundation, which focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness and education and provides an online project management system for charitable organizations; AIDS Arms’ Peabody Health Center; and AIDS Interfaith Network.
Wiley explained that well-known interior and floral designer Anthony Chisom began his foundation, which provides financial assistance to people with HIV to help them pay rent and utilities and buy their medications among other things, after a trip to Africa where he saw the devastation the HIV epidemic had caused there.

“He knew then that when he came home he had to do something. He had to get involved. So he started the Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation,” Wiley said.

Wiley said he and his steering committee are working to confirm Phil Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, as keynote speaker and grand marshal for the South Dallas AIDS Walk. But, he said, walk organizers need lots of sponsors, vendors, walkers and volunteers. And he hopes that many of the businesses and civil and faith community leaders in South Dallas will come on as partners in this effort.

He said the involvement of the business, civil and religious leaders will be vital to the walk’s success.

“South Dallas is, historically, a hard community to reach with the AIDS awareness and education messages,” Wiley said. “There is still a lot of the fear and stigma and shame surrounding HIV and AIDS in South Dallas that isn’t as strong any more in Oak Lawn and Oak Cliff. So it takes a different approach in South Dallas.

“It is very important that we have an aggressive and strategic community engagement piece to this effort. There needs to be a real conversation with the gatekeepers in this community, the community leaders,” he said. “If we can get them involved, then we have a better chance of getting our message to this community.”

Wiley said the walk will be an annual event, because a one-time thing won’t get the message across.

“You can’t go into this community just once with a message and then leave,” he said. “You have to stay there. You have to be visible. You have to let them know we care. We want them to know that this is ‘a walk in South Dallas, for South Dallas.’ That’s our theme.”

While the obvious goal is to raise awareness and funds, “it’s about a lot more than just charity and awareness. It’s about doing the work. Until there is a cure the work has to be done,” said Wiley, who this month marked his 15th year of living with AIDS and this year marked his 20th year of working in the HIV/AIDS field.
Wiley said, “This is about change. Dallas County has the highest HIV infection rate in Texas. South Dallas has some of the highest infection rates in Dallas County. That has to change. It is just time for a change.”

For more information, contact Auntjuan Wiley by e-mail at a.wiley@anthonychisomaidsfoundation.org or by phone at 214-455-7316.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

County to partner with community ASOs

Forums planned to gather ideas from community will focus on strategies to prevent HIV infection

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Dr. Steven Harris, left, and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price
EXTENDING THE FIGHT | Dallas County Health and Human Services Medical Director Dr. Steven Harris, left, and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price discuss new efforts to fight the rising HIV infection rate in the county during a press conference on Thursday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dallas County Health and Human Services Department officials announced Thursday, Sept. 16, that they are forming a new partnership with AIDS Arms and Resource Center Dallas to begin new HIV awareness and prevention programs.

“We’ve seen a resurgence of numbers,” said DCHHS Director Zachary Thompson.

Among the initiatives announced were community forums to find new ways to create awareness and spread the message of prevention.

“The key is resident input,” Thompson said.

The county will also open a new testing clinic in far North Dallas, an area with increasing HIV rates and a lack of HIV services.

“If money could have cured this, probably we wouldn’t be here today,” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

He said that an estimated one in five people infected with HIV in Dallas County do not know their status, adding that “HIV disproportionately affects certain populations.”

Among the groups with a recent increased infection rate are people age 50 and older. Saturday, Sept. 18 has been named National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. AIDS Arms has coordinated a number of testing locations around the county. Those locations are listed on the Dallas Voice website.

Dr. Steve Wilson, Dallas County’s STD/HIV medical director, said that early in the decade the area saw a decrease in the HIV infection rate. By 2006, there was a leveling off.
He attributed that, in part, to increased testing efforts by the county. He also said that current testing detects the virus earlier. At least 30 of the 850 to 900 people diagnosed locally last year would not have been detected with traditional testing methods.

Wilson said that three areas with most of the increase in infection rates are Oak Lawn, Oak Cliff and North Dallas. He said that to address the needs in those areas, the county was partnering with community-based organizations.

Bret Camp, associate executive director of Resource Center Dallas, said that early intervention produces the best clinical outcome.

“With the recent advances in HIV treatment, it is now a chronic, manageable disease,” Camp said. “Testing and education are our best weapons to fight the spread of HIV.”

He said that on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m., Resource Center Dallas would host the first community forum on strategies to join together “to create a successful plan that will reduce HIV transmission and give us healthier communities.”

Camp said they are looking from input from people who are HIV negative and positive and HIV infected and affected.

AIDS Arms Behavioral Intervention Specialist Ed Jones said a second forum would be held in South Dallas at the Urban League, 4315 S. Lancaster Road, on Oct. 28.

Jones said that because on an increased need for HIV clinical services, AIDS Arms would be opening a clinic in Oak Cliff in addition to its South Dallas Peabody Clinic.

One group that has seen a significant rise in HIV infection in Dallas County is younger people age 13 to 24. In 2006, two 13-year-olds were diagnosed. In 2008, a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds tested positive in Dallas County.

Rubin Ramirez
Rubin Ramirez

Price said that until recently, Dallas County was the largest in the country where condoms were not available to younger people because of an abstinence-only sex education mandate.

“In 1992, there was basically a ban by the court,” he said. “Let me say that I am very glad to stand here today and say that has been repealed.”

He said that purchasing condoms was not an issue. Condoms are available at the county health department for distribution.

“They are available as a protection mechanism,” he said. “It is available in your toolbox in Dallas County.”

Dallas County’s Chief Epidemiologist Wendy Chung said that the infection rate among 13-to-24-year-olds is 54 per 100,000. She said that represents a 30 percent increase in recent years.

Rubin Ramirez of Resource Center Dallas said that one of reasons for the increase in infections is apathy.

“People are immune to the message because of treatments available,” he said. “They think things are OK.”

He said the goal was to bring HIV awareness back to the forefront.

Price agreed and said that was a big problem in the African-American community.

“Magic made it. It can’t be that bad,” Price said referring to basketball player Magic Johnson who was first diagnosed with HIV 19 years ago. “There wasn’t anything magic about Magic, and we need to bring urgency to this issue.”

Currently, about 14,000 people in Dallas County are living with HIV. That is a 30 percent increase over the past six years. The growing number is partially due to longer life expectancies for persons receiving medications.

Of that amount, 67 percent of cases are among gay men and others identified as men who have sex with men. Women represent just 22 percent of the cases in Dallas County.
A disproportionately high percentage of HIV infections in Dallas County are among minorities. Hispanics account for 23 percent of the cases and blacks 48 percent.

While Dallas is the third largest city in Texas, it has the highest infection rate, according to AIDS Arms. Since 1981, 15,000 people have died of AIDS-related illnesses in North Texas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas County health chief calls for replicating 1980s model to combat rising HIV infection rate

In the face of Dallas County’s steadily rising HIV infection rate, which is the highest in Texas, health authorities are eyeing new strategies for treatment and prevention of the disease, according to Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.

The county health department, along with Resource Center Dallas and AIDS Arms Inc., have announced a joint press conference Thursday morning to unveil a new HIV/AIDS partnership, which will include two upcoming community forums and two new mobile testing sites.

Thompson said rising HIV infection rates are of particular concern in the 13-24 age group, in the American-American population and among men who have sex with men (MSM).

“I think when we saw what was going on in the Oak Lawn area back in the ’80s, there was a lot of information, there was a lot of education, there was a lot of discussion about testing,” Thompson told Instant Tea on Wednesday morning. “I think that’s the model we need to look at Dallas County-wide. It’s not just in one area. We need to take that same model and look at the fact that we’re seeing new HIV infection rates throughout Dallas County. … You’ve got a young population that may feel they’re invincible, and they may have missed the message altogether.”

A media alert announcing Thursday’s joint press conference between the three agencies states that, “By joining forces, they hope to bring progress in prevention, testing and education, as it pertains to HIV/AIDS.”

Thompson said health authorities believe there are many people in Dallas County who need HIV/AIDS services but don’t know how to access them.

“We need to really dialogue with the community on what are lessons learned, what are things we need to do,” he said. “Is it more testing? Is it more information? Is it more linkage to resources? We think the resources are out there. People just may not be aware of them.”

The two community forums in October will be at Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan St., and at the Urban League on Lancaster Road, Thompson said. Additional community forums will be announced soon.

The new mobile testing sites will be in two areas that are seeing rising HIV infections rates — East Oak Cliff and a section of North Dallas near LBJ Freeway and Coit Road.

“We’re going to have to look at the fact that with the state of all budgets, federal and state, we’re going to have to really focus on what’s going on in our community and how we can utilize existing services right now,” Thompson said.

Thursday’s press conference will be at 10 a.m. in Room 627A on the 6th floor of the health department, 2377 North Stemmons Freeway in Dallas.

For coverage of the press conference, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  John Wright