Department of Health holds screening to spread awareness

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services recognized National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with a film screening and discussion on the AIDS epidemic in black America Sunday.

The department screened the 2006 documentary "Out of Control: AIDS in Black America." Public Health and Human Services wanted to show the documentary even though it is over 10 years old.

"The reason why we're showing it is it has some pretty drastic statistics about HIV with black Americans, and about 10 years have passed and the statistics have not changed very much," HIV Health Educator Erika Holliday said. "The goal is to talk about why that hasn't changed and what moves we can make as a community to get things going."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, black people accounted for 46.1 percent of the total number of HIV cases in the United States in 2006. In 2015, that number was 45 percent, despite the fact that black people only made up 12 percent of the population. 

One of the reasons why these numbers haven't changed, according to the documentary and people attending the screening, is because no one has really wanted to talk about it.

"The problem is we don't talk about this issue because we have medications that are available for people that are living with HIV, so there's a perception that you get this disease and it's a manageable condition," Sheila Grigsby, the founder of Faith Communities United, said. "People are leaving out that this is still a 100 percent preventable disease, that you don't have to get it, and it's based off the choices that you make."

One of those communities is the church community. Grigsby said churches need to do more to spread awareness and to provide support for the people of their church.

"Many congregations have not been that home and been welcoming," Grigsby said. "The first thing I think congregations can and should do is to have an open space or an open place for members of their family who are affected, not necessarily infected but affected that they can come and talk about this issue."

The department said this is one of the reasons the event was held on a Sunday, as opposed to the actual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which was Feb. 7.

"[Churches] are very important and popular with the black community," Holliday said. "Especially with church communities, it can start an uprise and be a leader in fighting the HIV epidemic."