© 2022 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Raising Awareness in High Risk Groups

World AIDS Day 2010.jpg

Today - on this World AIDS day - in Ohio there are about 16,000 identified cases of people living with HIV/AIDS. However, that number changes significantly when you consider that an estimated 20% of the people infected with the disease aren't aware that they have it.

Bill Hardy, CEO of AIDS Resource Center Ohio,  says that number - 20% - applies locally - state wide and nationally. That's more than 3000 undetected cases of HIV in Ohio and another 220,000 nation-wide. The biggest rise in HIV infection rates right now is among adolescents and young adults, but Hardy says it's still a disease that affects most everyone

"It' all over the place, you know. It continues to be a disease of youth. That is newly diagnosed individuals, half of them are ages twenty-four or younger. But, having said that, one of the fastest growing demographics is also people age 50 and older. Those are people who are ageing with HIV or who are newly diagnosed with HIV. You know believing they're at a certain age, if they are female they don't use birth control, they think their at low risk. So it's older, it's younger, it's male, it's female. It continues to be a disease that affects mostly gay and bi-sexual males black, Hispanic and white. And the highest percentage of those folks who are HIV infected but still don't know their diagnosis are gay and bi-sexual males both black and white," says Hardy

Hardy says they'll continue to target those high risk groups though funding for prevention and testing remains the biggest challenge for healthcare providers and groups like ARC.

"The challenge is that dollars for HIV testing and prevention are always the flea on the tail of the dog. They're the hardest to get, they're the most controversial in terms of politics. Folks don't want their dollars going to prevention, education or youth to buy condoms or supplies, and so we continue to fight the battle," says Hardy.

The other big factor is raising the level of HIV awareness among a population that has become complacent, whether they think there beyond the point of risk, like the older group Hardy mentioned, or they're young people growing up in an age where HIV/AIDS isn't considered the death sentence it once was. Ben Adams is in that group. He's 23 and the Empowerment Coordinator at ARC.  He runs a social group young gay, bi-sexual and questioning men 18 - 29.

"It's really just a generational gap," says Adams.  "And so we never knew the days where people would die six or twelve months after they got a diagnosis. Most of our guys are online or reading a magazine and there's an HIV medication ad, and there's a healthy attractive guy in his thirties who takes one pill a day and they're fine. So I think a lot of our guys don't have the same sense of urgency or don't worry about it so much. They view it as a manageable condition, that if they get it they take one pill a day and they'll be fine."

Adams says that overcoming that mindset is not an easy task. 

"We really just try to relate to them on their level. We always kind of ask 'What's their understanding of whatever topic we're discussing, whether it's HIV or another health issue, and then just kind of relate how it affects them directly and point out that whatever perception they have might be a mainstream perception and just lay out the realities of where things are specifically with HIV and AIDS."

Ben Adams says the importance of projects like ARC's empowerment program can't be understated, and like Bill Hardy, knows the challenge of funding those programs. But he also had this to say:

"And I think a lot of it's just interpersonal, weather that's self-esteem building or that empowerment element that we like to push. You know, we can give people a thousand condoms - more than they would ever use during a lifetime, but if they don't feel like they're worth something, that their life matters, they're not really gonna use them."

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.