Alpha Frater starts program to raise HIV/AIDS awareness
HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and almost one in eight (12.8 percent) are unaware of their infection. Young, African American men are more seriously affected by HIV and face a more severe burden of HIV.
In St. Louis, medical expert Dr. Otha Myles, Adult Infectious Diseases Specialist at Mercy Clinic, developed Brother 2 Brother (B2B), a new program to reach out to urban males at Roosevelt High School. B2B is a collaboration between him and members of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis.
“I’m passionate about continuing the fight against health care disparities”, said Dr. Otha Myles, founder of the B2B Program and managing owner of Myles Medical Consulting, “especially HIV/AIDS, and particularly, among our minority male youth.”
Unfortunately, African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by new diagnoses of HIV infection each year. In fact, while blacks represent approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for approximately 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2010 per the CDC.
B2B initially was created as a discussion between professional minority men and young high school and college boys about HIV/AIDS and STIs. Over the past three years at Roosevelt, it has now grown into an all-day conference addressing additional topics to include teenage pregnancy, domestic violence in teenage relationships, and the Responsibility, Respect and the Role of Teen Males and Sex.
Dr. Myles led a session on “HIV 101: Getting Back to the Basics,” where he explained the difference between HIV and AIDS, and discussed some of the symptoms of HIV infection. It includes flu-like symptoms such as fever, enlarged lymph nodes, sore throat, rash, fatigue, muscle and joint aches/pains, and headaches. Some people who have no symptoms at all but they can still transmit HIV, leading to infection.
Panelists have included someone living with HIV and another male youth whose mother had been infected with HIV and died of AIDS.
Students were also involved in activities that allowed them to better understand how HIV is spread through contact with specific body fluids (blood, pre-ejaculate and semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk) and not others (i.e., sweat, tears, saliva, feces, and urine).
Other sessions on STIs led to discussions with the youth about prevention methods, both behavioral and biomedical (use of HIV medications for PrEP or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis).
Additionally, students are reminded the only way to determine if you are infected with HIV is to get tested. The CDC currently recommends healthcare providers test everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 years old at least once as a part of routine health care. Getting tested allows you to know your status and therefore, may lead to early diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Currently, there are greater than 35 FDA approved drugs to treat HIV infection, and at least three of these medications are one pill, once a day. For HIV positive individuals who start treatment early, remain adherent to their medicines and stay under the care of their physician, their life expectancy can be as long as other individuals who are not infected with HIV.
This program is sponsored by a grant from the Mercy Health Foundation and is in collaboration with several community service organizations such as, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated (local STL Chapter, Epsilon Lambda), the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan STL, Project Ark, Missouri State Health Department and UMSL School of Nursing.