Monica Pitta is the chairperson of the Minnesota 2005 African World’s AIDS Day (AWAD). This year’s event will take place at the
on 10 December (See calendar on Page 3 for time and address). To find out what will transpire on the said date, Mshale Senior Staff Writer, Swallehe Msuya, interviewed Monica who discusses a number of issues related to HIV-AIDS education and eradication.
Can you brief our readers what AWAD is and when it came into being?
The African Worlds AIDS Day (AWAD) is a commemorative day set apart for the observance of the World AIDS Day for African-born people living in
. This event unites African communities, Community Based Organizations and agencies serving African people in MN to fight HIV/AIDS. In 2004, Africa-born
residents representing several African nations were enjoined in a unified commemoration to call attention to the impact HIV and AIDS has had on Africans here and in their respective countries
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, HIV continues to be a problem among Africa-born persons in
, who made up 19 percent of new HIV diagnoses during 2004, but represented less than 1 percent of the general population. This group is particularly vulnerable because they have not been exposed to 20 years of HIV education and prevention messages that the general population has.
Briefly explain the objectives of AWAD.
The objectives of AWAD are to:
- Increase knowledge on HIV services available in MN.
- Reduce HIV related stigma and discrimination.
- Provide HIV prevention education.
- Encourage and provide HIV testing, counseling and referrals.
What is the date, time and venue of the 2005 AWAD?
The AWAD event for 2005 will take place at the
on December 10, 2005 as from 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. The address is310 East 38th Street, Minneapolis, MN
For direction call 612-827-5981. Plan to arrive early, the event will start on time.
Who are the key participants in the 2005 AWAD?
This year the planning process has brought together 35 African and non-African Community Based Organizations serving diverse African communities, three governmental units, one academic institution, several faith-based institutions, and individual volunteers. In addition, the event is expected to bring together more than 500 African and non-African people to reflect on the current realities of HIV/AIDS.
The event is free and open to all Africans living in MN, and to the general public, we welcome all.
How will this year’s event differ from last year’s?
MP: The theme of this year’s event “STOP AIDS. KEEP THE PROMISE” was created to emphasize and build upon the key factors that were addressed in the previous year. This is mainly because of the disease prevalence among the African-born communities and the existing stigma that is associated with AIDS.
What is the theme of this year’s event?
The theme of this year’s event is “STOP AIDS. KEEP THE PROMISE”. The AWAD is a united effort to bring together African people living in
, in the support and company of their providers and friends to reflect on the current realities of HIV/AIDS, increase knowledge on services, eliminate stigma and have a fun day together in the African style.
It’s aimed at encouraging African people in
to step out, dispel fear of talking about HIV and take responsibility for themselves and their community.
What achievements did we gain and what lessons did we learn from last year’s AWAD event?
Last year’s event was successful. It was the first event of it’s kind that brought together more than 400 African-born people for the purpose of increasing awareness on HIV/AIDS, reducing stigma and discrimination, providing prevention education, and connecting those already affected to existing care services. It was also marked by two African heroes living with HIV/ AIDS step out despite the stigma to tell their story. This was done in a culturally appropriate and relevant manner, and the participants appreciated the presentations and exhibits made available on site. Later effect were more African communities opening up to welcome HIV/AIDS education in their social gathering. Two more people living with HIV gained the courage to speak out.
What do you hope to achieve by hosting this AWAD event this year?
Unity is strength. The African proverb says “when spider web unite, it can tie up a lion”. We hope to unite all concerned about the increase of HIV in the African born community in MN in the fight against HIV. We hope that African people in Minnesota will begin to see HIV as any chronic disease which is among them, open up to speak about it, learn how to prevent getting the infection, not fear or blame those who are living with the disease, accept and support people living with HIV/AIDS. We also hope to increase the knowledge on HIV services available. We hope the audience will learn why it is good to know ones HIV status early and those who want to be tested or connected to services will have the opportunity on spot.
The sessions will be seek to encourage behavior change and modification, promote the need for HIV testing, in addition to highlighting the services available to those already infected.
Are members of the general public invited to attend? What should they expect to see or gain by attending?
It is open invitation to all members of the general public. It is a free event, free food, African entertainment like dance, drama, music, table display, HIV testing, latest HIV/AIDS information, information on type of services for HIV+ people etc.
Those who attend, other than the information they will gain, they will have a free fun day
Who are the organizers of AWAD and who are the sponsors this year?
The organizers (see the footnote of the attached invitation letter) are composed of members from 35 African and non-African Community Based Organizations serving diverse African communities, three governmental units, one academic institution, several faith-based institutions, and individual volunteers.-They include:
How widespread is HIV-AIDS among African immigrants in
? Is the situation getting better or worse over the years? Why?
Whereas the African community is less than 1% of the population of
, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH ) has noted an increase in the proportion of new cases of HIV among African immigrants from 4% in 1996 to 59% in 2004. For the last 3 years, new HIV infections continue to be highest in the African born people. African community members are still being diagnosed with advance disease (AIDS) mainly because they seek treatment late due to socio-economic implications, language barriers, and fear of and isolation and discrimination.
HIV-positive people who are African immigrants in
have serious issues with stigma associated with AIDS within their communities, immigration with its complicated navigational route, housing needs, health insurance cover, and employment windows. How will AWAD address these problems?
The AWAD has a specific mandate that does not cover the issues this question raises. The AWAD planning committee has made invitations for presentations (oral and display) by various service providers in
for purposes of highlighting the range of services available to those seeking testing and those living with HIV/AIDS. Participants attending the event are guaranteed to have their questions answered by the service providers on-site.
Some of the so-called community-based non-profits serving HIV-AIDS people are actually family businesses designed to benefit the families that own them. Is there a possibility to have a shift in which HIV-AIDS patients can assume ownership and control of these mushrooming organizations as key stakeholders so that they can directly benefit from them?
AWAD’s prerogative is to bring together organizations whose aim is to serve African-born people in
in order to ensure a healthy and sustainable community. In this regard, the AWAD initiative is not mandated to sanction any existing organizations that are serving the African communities, but it is hoped that all organizations that join this collaborative do so for purposes of effectively serving their community. The event gives special focus and encouragement to people living with AIDS to make a break through by speaking out and hopefully participating in the fight against AIDS.
Basic assistance for HIV-AIDS people like bus cards, phone cards during public holidays to call home, educational assistance for career building and pocket money have been hard to come by. At best they have only trickled down stingily rather than being automatic rights for targeted people on whom institutions and members of the public donate so generously. Can you promise AIDS suffers some light at the end of the tunnel as far as these basic rights are concerned?
My two years experience in working in the field of HIV/AIDS has revealed the truth that funding is shrinking. There seem to never be enough services to go round. There is lack of culturally appropriate services. The need for more people to be involved especially people living with HIV is great. On the other hand Africans are not adequately accessing the services available due to lack of knowledge about what is out there. Every community needs to be involved. People living with HIV should join he fight and one day, we will win and kick out HIV.
Is it time for those with HIV-AIDS to get mobilized and form their own non-profit organizations to bypass those ripping them off?
Some of the present organizations were founded by HIV positive individuals and they are doing well to date. Every body should be encouraged to find what they can do to contribute in the fight against HIV/AIDS. There are many areas lacking, it might be working in the present agencies, in the advisory boards or in the MDH planning council which has influence on funding among others etc. I am sure each person as individual, community, faith institution etc has a place in the fight against AIDS.