At least 5,638 people in the St. Louis region are living with HIV, according to 2013 numbers from the Missouri Department of Health. About 250 people were newly infected.
Two out of three of those new cases affected African Americans.
Harris-Stowe State University is raising awareness of this disparity by marking National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Saturday. Plans for the day-long event include free HIV testing, health screenings, and a performance by Broadway actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who wrote monologues honoring friends she lost to HIV/AIDS. In addition, Myrtle Hilliard Davis Comprehensive Health Centers will be offering free and confidential testing at all three of its locations from 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday.
In the six-county St. Louis region, the Missouri Department of Health reports that rates of new HIV infections are disproportionately high among black men and women, and young people between the ages of 19 and 24.
“There are subpopulations where rates are actually going up. Averages can hide those patterns,” said Soda Lo, who coordinates HIV testing sites through Project ARK at Washington University in St. Louis. Project ARK sites provide 11,000 tests in the St. Louis area each year. All testing sites can be found on the CDC’s website.
Although rates of new infections have stayed relatively steady in the St. Louis region, the number of HIV disease deaths has dropped significantly. Providers say early diagnosis is key to getting people into treatment earlier, which extends their quality of life and can keep them from spreading the virus.
“Our population is at risk,” said Angela Clabon, CEO of Myrtle Hilliard Davis centers. “It’s time for us to participate and let the community know that we are there for them.”
If you go:
TURN UP for Black HIV/AIDS Awareness
Harris-Stowe State University
11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday
Performances begin at noon; Sheryl Lee Ralph performs “Sometimes I Cry” at 1 p.m. Saturday.
This post has been edited to clarify the performance schedule. Follow more health news from St. Louis Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren on Twitter: @durrieB