Yuma forum to promote awareness of AIDS
The organizers of a community forum on AIDS are counting on an Oct. 15 event to lead to a higher level of public awareness that they say is needed in the battle against the deadly disease.
The forum, free and open to the public, will bring together speakers and health experts to talk about AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes it. It is set for 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Yuma Heritage Library, 350 S. 3rd Ave., and on the grounds outside the building.
Organizers of the event are Back to the Basics, Please, a Yuma group dedicated to promoting AIDS awareness and prevention, and the Somerton-based Regional Centers for Border Health (RCBH).
While AIDS has spread around the planet, it presents specific challenges and risk in Yuma County, given not only the area’s proximity to Mexico but its location on a major freeway between Phoenix and San Diego, said Brandon Bennett, president of Back to the Basics. Since so many people travel frequently between Yuma County and Mexico, he said, it becomes harder to compile the up-to-date statistics about AIDS incident that are crucial in the fight against the disease.
The presentations, all inside the library, are open to the public, but residents wishing to attend should register in advance, since space is limited. To do so, call Edward Carns, 928-503-2524.
Outside on the library grounds, RCBH will offer free HIV testing and health screenings at a mobile medical unit that it is supplying for the event, said Mariajose Almazan, the organization’s community resources director.
RCBH acquired the unit as part of efforts to make HIV testing more accessible to residents around the county, Bennett said.
HIV courses hope to form community awareness
Brandon Bennett, the president of Back to Basics Please, said the courses are free and offer credits for college students through Border Health. He said the courses are certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We wanted to open it up a little bit to the public as well, mainly the people that work in different types of health outreach.”
According to Bennett, the CDC has the goal of communities to work on capacity building assistance. “In other words, all of the different organizations working together to help the community,” Bennett said.
The four-hour classes are for six weeks, every Friday, Bennett said, and held in a specific scheduled hierarchy.
April 1 and 8 will begin the first session of the courses, HIV 101, which, according to Bennett, will give a basic physiology of HIV transmission.
“How it’s transmitted, what we know about it today vs. what we knew about it years ago. We’ll probably discuss some of the statistics, some of the dilemmas with the pandemic, especially in the United States right now.”
Bennett added that this session will touch on the concerns of budget cuts that may affect HIV-positive patients.
April 15 and 22 will focus on the second topic of the courses, Cultural Competency, which Bennett said will educate participants on the “ins and outs of how to deal with migrant and Hispanic populations a well as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) populations.”
The final section of the course, Outreach Recruitment and Retention, will be held April 29 and May 6.
Bennett said the courses are free and that attendees can pick and choose which subjects they would like to attend. “If they want to only attend one topic or different, various topics, then they can certainly do that.”
However, “Border Health would really like a tight class of about 30, and we’re almost there,” he said.
Bennett said those registered to attend all six weeks will be at the top of the list.
For more information or to reserve a spot in HIV 101, contact Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
World AIDS Day to educate Yuma
Yumans will remember its community members who have lost their lives in the battle against AIDS at the local commemoration for World AIDS Day.
The event will be held from 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Dec. 1 in the Arizona Western College 3C Facility.
Back to the Basics Please and the Regional Center for Border Health organized the event and have prepared a day of education, entertainment and informative speakers for those in attendance.
According to a statement from BTTBP, the United Nations World AIDS Day theme — and the theme for Yuma’s event — is “Universal Access and Human Rights.”
According to statistics given from BTTBP, AIDS has already claimed the lives of more than 25 million people throughout the world, while an estimated 33.2 million live with HIV.
The Yuma event was created to promote education that can prevent new infections, to honor the progress made in the battle against AIDS, and to renew commitments made to tackle the epidemic, the statement said.
Brandon Bennett, president and CEO of BTTBP, said the event is scheduled to have around 30 to 35 organizations in attendance with booths educating the public about the disease.
There will also be free confidential HIV testing provided at the event.
According to Bennett, honorable guest speakers include State Sen. Amanda Aguirre and the Rev. Rogelio Torres.
Bennett said the event is important to the area because there is a lack of outreach in the south county area of Yuma.
“So many think HIV is a big-city epidemic and it’s not around, and it very much is,” Bennett said.
Bennett said Yuma’s status as a transient community between major hubs San Diego and Phoenix also makes the area prone to infection.
“It’s very difficult to nail down where our infections are and the amount of infections that we’ve got,” Bennett said.
For more information on the event and its sponsoring organizations, contact Brandon Bennett at email@example.com, or visit www.bttbp.org.
The Yuma County Public Health Services District will also commemorate World AIDS Day, with a focus on the population aged 50 and older.
The theme will be “Many Things Come with Age, HIV Doesn’t Have To Be One of Them.” Health District personnel will offer free HIV screening for anyone as well as information regarding HIV/AIDS education.
The event will be held 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Public Health District Building in the east entrance (room 256), 2200 W. 28th St.
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Border Health Foundation hopes to reach out to migrant workers and others who aren’t educated on safe sex practices, and who are susceptible to contracting diseases before returning home to their families.
“The border communities recognize the need for this,” says Dr. Robin Higashi, a Research and Development Specialist with Border Health Foundation. “The migrants that travel all over the us are really increasing in numbers too.”
Border Health Foundation, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control, says AIDS education on both sides of the border is vital.
“Funding organizations through small grants provide technical assistance to [directors] in Mexico [to those] who are in prevention programs,” says Ricky Wascher-Tavares, a Project Coordinator with Border Health Foundation.
Brandon Bennett with the support group Back to the Basics Please says chemical addictions often lead to risky behaviors.
“That drug, and a lot of times in our minds, it’s a relationship. You’ve got to say goodbye to it,” says Bennett. “You also have to forgive it. Well, how can you forgive something that gave you so much harm? but we have to, just like we have to forgive someone in our lives for the harm that they did to us. We have to forgive and say goodbye to that drug.”
Bennett adds that tough love goes a long way.
“If you have anybody in your life who’s abusing drugs or alcohol, don’t think for a moment that tough love doesn’t work because it does.”
Dab the AIDS Bear Visits Yuma
(Published in the Yuma Sun, 04.24.10, and written by Chris McDaniel – Sun Staff Writer. Direct link to their publication of the article here. Photo credit by Chris McDaniel – Yuma Sun)
Members of Back to the Basics Please (BTTBP), a local nonprofit organization committed to furthering HIV/AIDS education and awareness, gathered at Smucker Park Saturday to share Dab the AIDS Bear with the Yuma community.
Dab is symbolic to the HIV/AIDS community for bringing support to those impacted by the disease, said Gabriela Leon, BTTBP HIV outreach director.
According to the BTTBP website, Dab the AIDS Bear was started as a symbol of love and hope by Dab Garner for friends dying in quarantine from AIDS in the early 1980s.
“Dab began taking a teddy bear to his friends who were in the AIDS wards to give love through the teddy bear,” Leon said.
“Once the AIDS wards were closed down, the patients were still alone in the hospitals and their homes and hospices because of societal or family rejection or a variety of other reasons. So it spawned into Dab taking teddy bears to them, and this project turned into a bigger thing.”
The bear continues the message of hope for people living with HIV/AIDS and symbolizes the millions whose sacrifice and deaths provided the life-saving medications available today, event organizers said.
The bear travels around the country so people, including many celebrities, can take pictures with it, which are posted to dabtheaidsbearproject.com. The pictures taken in Yuma on Saturday will be posted to backtothebasicsplease. com as well.
“We want to bring awareness and love to people regardless if they are infected or not,” Leon said. “A teddy bear could be that love and connection to another human being that is needed.”
HIV/AIDS is still around and claiming victims, Leon said.
“HIV/AIDS is a big problem in small communities because of the lack of resources. We know nationwide there have been severe funding cuts. Some of the programs that have been greatly impacted are social human service programs.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HIV is spread by sexual contact with an infected person, by sharing needles or syringes with someone who is infected or, very rarely, through transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors.
Babies born to HIV-infected women may become infected before or during birth or through breast-feeding after birth.
The CDC said HIV/AIDS has claimed the lives of over 550,000 Americans. Today, between 800,000 and 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and one fifth of those infected are unaware of their infection.
Also, the number of people living with AIDS is increasing, as effective new drug therapies are keeping HIV-infected persons healthy longer and dramatically reducing the death rate.
Arizona has reported 10,975 AIDS cases to the CDC from the beginning of the epidemic through December 2007. Arizona is ranked 21st highest among the 50 states in cumulative reported AIDS cases, the CDC said.
According to aids-ed.org, the four southern Arizona border counties represent about 1,292 AIDS cases, or 21 percent of the total for the state, with 80 AIDS cases and 73 HIV cases reported in Yuma County since the beginning of the epidemic as of December 2007.
A report submitted by the state of Arizona in August 2008 said there were five new HIV cases in Yuma at that time as well as four new AIDS cases.
“The rates are high, and we want people to at least know HIV is still out there, and the numbers are increasing in our community,” Leon said. “There are still many people who are misinformed about how you can and cannot catch it, and it is important to get the information out.”
Leon believes there is still a stigma attached to anyone infected with the disease. She said the infected may refuse to tell anyone about their condition because they are afraid of getting fired, losing their friends or getting disowned by their families.
“There is still a huge stigma. We’ve done our best to get people to speak at our events, but they are always concerned someone is going to recognize them. We really want the community to realize AIDS is still very present in Yuma County and the only way to fight the fear is to get educated and read about it and get more information. That is the only way we will understand and begin to destigmatize it.”
Leon said there is no reason to fear someone who is infected with AIDS.
“You can hug them and hold them. People with HIV have babies, get married and are in relationships. As long as they take care of themselves, they will not pass HIV through casual contact.”
World AIDS Day Event Held at AWC
(Published in the Yuma Sun, 11.28.09, and written by Stephanie A.Wilken – Sun Staff Writer. Direct link to their publication of the article here.)
World AIDS Day 2009 will honor the lives lost to the disease Tuesday at Arizona Western College.
The commemoration takes place at AWC’s College Community Center Tuesday beginning at noon with a prayer vigil at 6 p.m.
The day will be marked by worldwide events remembering those who succumbed to the pandemic and renewing a commitment to finding improved treatments, according to Brandon Bennett, president of Back To The Basics Please (BTTBP), the nonprofit hosting the tribute.
“Yuma has never experienced an event like this before. HIV is not a minority issue, it is a public issue. So we’re trying to make this event as public as possible with garnering as many public health organizations as possible.”
Some of the organizations participating include Yuma County Public Health Services District, Yuma County AIDS Network, Sunset Community Health Center, Hospice of Yuma and Project GBH, as well as several other institutions.
BTTBP is an online support group serving the addiction recovery community since 2003, Bennett said. Its mission is to connect any individual in any part of the U.S. to local resources to meet their needs with quality services, he added.
Along with HIV prevention information and discussions, attendees will be addressed by state Sen. Amanda Aguirre, state Rep. Lynne Pancrazi and Mayor Larry Nelson. The prayer vigil will be led by Stacy Richards, pastor of the United Church of Christ.
Richards said he will commence the vigil with an invocation and then offer brief comments. He said there are many ways of contracting HIV and people need to take care to protect themselves.
“For those who do contract HIV, the rest of us need to be caring, compassionate and reach out with aid and comfort. I strongly urge people to come out and support the effort.”
Bennett said World AIDS Day is important because it brings awareness to all those loved ones who have been affected by the pandemic. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to stress the need for prevention and offer support for those afflicted as well as those with family or friends who have been stricken, he added.
“HIV infection rates are on the rise in Arizona and in Yuma. We are seeing a climb in statistics throughout minority populations as well as mainstream society.”
Bennett also pointed out HIV is prevalent all over the globe and just because some live in a rural area does not mean they are immune. Each individual can make a difference in the fight against the pandemic by educating themselves.
“People should be aware HIV is a terminal disease, even though various therapies are available. But HIV is developing into new strains that are more virulent than what exists now.”
He said it would benefit everybody to know the consequences of risky behavior. And for those already infected with HIV, this event is good material to get started on how to maintain or improve health.
Bennett said despite progress made in treatment options, HIV remains a significant threat. It has claimed the lives of 25 million throughout the world while an estimated 33.2 million currently live with HIV and remains one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.
Erica Messer, chair of the Yuma County AIDS Network, noted in a previous story in the Yuma Sun what is important is that free AIDS testing is available once a week from the Yuma County Public Health Services District.
Messer also said it is hoped HIV could be eradicated by 2015 and while World AIDS Day began as an awareness event, emphasis is now on public education because HIV is not a disease that discriminates.
The Yuma County AIDS Network holds its own vigil at Sanguinetti Park with refreshments and entertainment on Dec. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Group Focused on AIDS Prevention, Education
(Published in the Yuma Sun, 11.01.09, and written by Stephanie A.Wilken – Sun Staff Writer. Direct link to their publication of the article here. Photo credit by Ryan Brennecke – Yuma Sun)
With the first of December almost around the corner, members of one local group are gearing up for an event on World AIDS Day to help educate the public.
Local nonprofit group Back to the Basics Please (BTTBP) is a group dedicated to focusing on life wellness, including narcotics prevention and furthering HIV education. The group also seeks to support families and loved ones affected by HIV and AIDS and make the gay and lesbian community accessible to the community.
Yuman Brandon Bennett started BTTBP in 2003 as an online support group after he moved to Yuma.
Unlike larger metropolitan areas, some rural communities may not have the same resources. That’s what Bennett had in mind for Yuma and BTTBP.
“Social support services just seemed to be lacking here,” he said.
As a recovering addict himself, Bennett said it’s important to bring resources to the Yuma area.
“We need to have an outlet here in Yuma. We need to offer that support.”
And the group hopes to help support area young people, said member Lauren Sanders. Sanders said a lot of the young people leave the area because there’s nothing here for them.
“It’s not the older generation who can do it for us, we’re going to have to do it for ourselves,” said group member Douglas Sanchez.
One of the quickest ways to gain access to the group is through its Web site at http://bttbp.org/ .
Member Edward Carns said people can find the help they need through the site. The site is also where people can check for updates about the group’s upcoming World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
More people continue to join the group and organizers continue to make plans, Bennett said. They’re planning to have World AIDS Day at Arizona Western College and hope to provide educational materials, create an inviting atmosphere and great conversation.
The day, which has furthered HIV and AIDS awareness for 21 years, is traditionally recognized with a red ribbon of remembrance.
By 2007, more than 25 million people had died of complications from AIDS since 1981. Dec. 1 is a day to remember those who have died but also to bring awareness.
This is the first year the group will host a World AIDS Day event, but Bennett said he hopes it will be an annual event.
And with BTTBP gaining momentum, he said, he hopes to reach people all over the U.S.
“I think the more good exposure that we present to the public, the more supportive the public will be to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Bennett said HIV-AIDS isn’t just a minority issue, it’s a general public issue.
“Hey, it’s not just in big cities, it’s everywhere,” Carns said