A founder of Imani Unidad Inc., Debra Stanley is used to being at the vanguard of change, making sure that people living with HIV/AIDS get treatment.
This is the 10th year for Imani Unidad Inc., an HIV and substance abuse prevention organization, beating the pavement trying to get the word out about awareness to everyone, especially African-Americans in South Bend.
“It’s really hard work trying to talk to people about HIV,” Stanley said. “Although it has been around for years, people still attach a stigma to it. Therefore, the fear prevents people from getting tested. It has been my mission to get the word out to get tested and learn about, not only your health, but about HIV prevention, and believe me, it’s hard but rewarding work.
“I’ve been involved in HIV/AIDS for the past 25 years myself. But what people don’t know and should is that Indiana has some of highest numbers of African-Americans living with HIV.”
The goals of the organization are prevention, to try to decrease social isolation, to create healthy social structure, improve self-image and reduce high-risk behaviors.
“My granddaughter died last year from complications of AIDS,” said Willa Wilson, of South Bend.
“She contracted it from one of her partners and she never really got it under control. She was treated so badly by people who were scared of her, including people in our family.
“I think in the end she just gave up. We as black folk have got to get over the fear and learn more about HIV and if you or someone you know might have it, they need to get tested.”
While African-American women also continue to be far more affected by HIV than women of other races and ethnicities, recent data show early signs of an encouraging decrease in new HIV infections.
The CDC is cautiously optimistic that this is the beginning of a longer-term trend, Stanley said.
“Today, we have many more opportunities than ever before to reduce the burden of HIV that African-American men, women, and young adults bear,” she said. “I’m constantly trying to find out what things the state, local public health agencies are offering to continue to address the HIV epidemic in African-American communities.” she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, about one in four Americans living with HIV today are women and black women are heavily affected. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women aged 25 to 34, according to the government agency.
“We have to get educated and educate our children not only about their bodies but HIV/AIDS, too,” Stanley said. “For the past 10 years we have been working to reduce new HIV infections and there is still plenty of work to be done.”