Aids Prevention and Education Are Focus of Agency

Article excerpt

The old dictum equating an "ounce of prevention" with a "pound of cure" goes double for a devastating disease such as AIDS.

"Prevention and educating people about prevention is what St. Louis Effort for AIDS is all about," said Jean Cavender, director of volunteer services for the area's biggest and oldest agency helping those who have AIDS or who are infected with HIV. The agency is in its 11th year.

Prevention strategies are the only weapon at present against spread of the viral, mostly sexually transmitted disease that still has no cure, Cavender said. "To change behavior, you have to change thinking," she emphasized. "To change thinking, you have to educate." St. Louis Effort for AIDS, a United Way nonprofit agency, targets its outreach education programs to specific groups who are at risk - not only gays and bisexuals, but also heterosexual college students, women and blacks. The incidence of HIV infection continues to fall among homosexuals, who have been hit the hardest and longest by the disease and have learned to practice safe sex and even abstinence, Cavender noted. Poor minorities have become especially at risk, said Mark Pickering, the agency's executive director. Last year, AIDS was the leading cause of death among Americans 25 to 44 years, with the rate among African-Americans four times that for whites and the rate among Latinos, especially males, also disproportionately high, he said. "We speculate that members of these groups still believe they're not particularly at risk, that it's a gays-only problem, and they don't bother to take precautions," Pickering said. Joy Steele, an agency case manager, said she is seeing many more heterosexuals - men and women, white and nonwhite. One of her cases was a homeless black man in his early 30s who moved to St. Louis and didn't where or how to find help when his HIV infection graduated into full-blown AIDS. …