AIDS Arms combats the many faces of HIV

November 3, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Andy Garcia
atgarcia@smu.edu

Standing in front of a microphone, 52-year-old Edith Lang prepares for her solo. When she opens her mouth and begins to sing, she fills The Ark Church in Oak Cliff with the sound of her voice.

In 1998, Lang discovered her minister husband of one year was HIV positive. During a doctor’s visit, she saw his paperwork said HIV and “then it had this little plus sign on the side of it.” She later learned he had been aware of his status for 14 years.

Lang tested positive herself one month later. Her husband divorced her afterwards. Instead of letting grief consume her, Lang took solace in her family, friends and church.

Starting in 2000, Lang began using the Oak Lawn based nonprofit AIDS Arms Inc. to help with medical care and other needs. With their help she became a symbol of strength to her community and church and today works as a peer advocate for women with HIV.

“I have gone through some periods of time in my life where I wasn’t working,” Lang said. “They stepped up and did what needed to be done.”

On Oct. 11, AIDS Arms celebrated the grand opening of its Trinity Health & Wellness Clinic on Sunset Avenue in Oak Lawn. Coupled with its clinic on Peabody Avenue in Fair Park, AIDS Arms plans to provide more services for those with HIV, including a growing number of minority patients.

The new clinic is able to provide affordable health care for up to 2,500 people. Many of these patients are unable to afford treatment from a private doctor.

In 2010, AIDS Arms provided HIV testing, medical services and casework for 10,768 people. Forty-six percent of the people served were black, like Lang, 36 percent were white, 17 percent were Hispanic/Latino and one percent were listed as other.

Dallas County Health & Human Services reported in 2010, of the estimated 14,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Dallas county, 40 percent were black, 39 percent were white, 19 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were categorized as other, according to a 2010 report by the Dallas County Health & Human Services reported the black population had the highest concentration of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses, with 452 in 2010. The white population had the second highest concentration, with 219.

“In the African American community, we’re still not waking up to the fact that this is an epidemic,” said Dr. Evans, a doctor with AIDS Arms.

AIDS Arms also offers aid to illegal immigrants. Win Speicher, a case worker for the organization, said these individuals are often are more focused on providing food, shelter and other basic necessities for themselves than treating their infection. Without AIDS Arms helping they would be left untreated. These people constitute part of the 6,400 people with HIV in Dallas that are uninsured.

Sixty percent of people served by AIDS Arms have no health insurance and more than 90 percent live below the federal poverty level.

HIV, however, is not limited to those who are impoverished. While sitting in a coffee shop in Uptown, a 28-year-old man who chose to remain anonymous, said a combination of substance abuse and unprotected sex led to his contraction of the virus in 2009.

The man was kicked out of medical school at UT Southwestern in January 2010. Eventually drained of resources, he turned to rehabilitation in March and AIDS Arms in April.

“All of my care now goes through AIDS Arms,” he said.

Apart from medical care, AIDS Arms works as a referral agency providing HIV positive people with outside resources, like housing, transportation and financial assistance. The new Trinity clinic will also provide daycare services for children of patients while they are seeking treatment.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports that 21 percent of people with HIV do not know they are infected. It is estimated that 15,000 people in Texas do not know they have the virus.

According to Lang, people are often ignorant of the dangers of HIV. She believes a lack of education about the virus has left people vulnerable to it.

“They feel like what they don’t know won’t hurt them, and that’s the wrong thought,” said Lang.

Raeline Nobles, the executive director of AIDS Arms, believes when people go in for the treatment they are helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

Nobles acknowledges that barriers like poverty and a stigma about how the virus is spread make it difficult for people with HIV to seek help. She said that in cultures of poverty, where people have less access to education, economic opportunity and medical care, talking about HIV is especially difficult.

“You feel ostracized, isolated and that you can not ask for help from the community you count on,” said Nobles.

Nobles adds that people in these conditions are less likely to look for treatment because of the fear that family, friends and neighbors will find out about their HIV status.

The negative stigma of how HIV is spread also makes it difficult for people to admit they have the virus.

“People don’t understand the only way, almost, that you can get HIV is unprotected sex and dirty needles,” said Speicher.

The main office for AIDS Arms is located on 351 West Jefferson Blvd. Suite 300 Dallas, Texas 75208 and can be reached at (214) 521-5191.

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