The Advocate (Baton Rouge) (05.21.12) - Wednesday, May 23,
Around 150 people gathered Sunday near the state Capitol in
Baton Rouge to mark International AIDS Candlelight Memorial
The city has some 5,000 residents living with HIV/AIDS, of
whom 76 percent are black, said Jack Carrel, administrator for
the Baton Rouge Ryan White Program. Ninety-one percent of new
diagnoses are black. "The disparity here in Baton Rouge is
really something," he said.
Twanda Lewis, who was among those in attendance, said HIV/AIDS
stigma is a particular problem for Baton Rouge's African
Americans. "We struggle in this community with stigma. It's a
big issue," she said.
Education and prevention are key to reducing the stigma and
impact of AIDS, according to Cassandra Whitty. She has been
living with HIV since 2000 and chairs the board of the
HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two Inc. (HAART). "I feel great,
I feel happy. But there are a lot of people who live in
silence," she said.
Another concern is that more young people and women are
becoming infected, said Tim Young, executive director of
HAART, which sponsored the event. "They think they're
invincible, like 'this can't happen to me,'" he said. "But
with such high rates in the city, if they're having
unprotected sex, they're greatly increasing their chance of
contracting the virus."
HAART offers free HIV testing, as well as free treatment and
services for those who are positive. The Baton Rouge AIDS
Society also provides free testing.