SIKESTON -- Testing for HIV infections and addressing risky behavior are among the tactics to be used to promote HIV/AIDS awareness during a conference set for Saturday in Sikeston.
The Ahteel Corp. will present Rural HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign 2007 "Fighting Against HIV/AIDS: Get Educated!" from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln-Glory Land Community Center, 229 Westgate St.
Saturday marks the second annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day which seeks to raise awareness of the increasing impact of HIV/AIDS on the lives of women and girls.
"It's a great need because there's a lot of HIV/AIDS cases coming into this area, especially in Mississippi County, where they've recently gotten new cases," said Leetha Samelton, president and CEO of Ahteel Corp.
Geared to ages 11 and up, the conference is open to both males and females. Samelton said several youth groups from a five-county service area are planning to attend.
"Any age a child is asking questions is when they should be given the information, but I also know that 11 to 12 years is the age where they stop asking questions, and that's where we want to target them in a way -- not to scare or make judgments -- but to give them facts to help them make the best decisions," said Crystal Robinson, Ryan White Care Act case manager for Southeast Missouri.
Robinson said it's difficult to give statistics for the region because HIV/AIDS cases are tracked several ways. Plus it's a voluntary program.
"In general, we've seen a definite increase in women being HIV positive," Robinson said. "Twenty years ago we were looking at 8 percent of those positives were female. Now it's 25-27 percent nationwide. The numbers continue to increase every year."
Nationwide 40,000 new cases are reported each year so there's definitely a need for educational conferences like the one on Saturday, Robinson said.
"AIDS/HIV education and prevention has been going on for 25 years now. ... People don't talk about it as much any more because there are so many other things.
"We're seeing a whole generation of people who have always known this disease was there," Robinson continued. "It's not new. It's not anything that gets them excited anymore."
Because there have been so many advances made in AIDS/HIV treatment and care, the disease is viewed as a chronic illness to some, Robinson said.
"People are living reasonably normal, healthy lives, and they don't look or act sick. ... They can take a pill and go on with life. Even though it's true, these people haven't seen the horrors the diseases can do to some," Robinson said. The corporation will provide a one-day event to promote the HIV/AIDS message to include: booths providing educational materials for parents and youth, HIV testing, youth skit and other entertainment and presenters educating on topics such as, what is HIV?, who's at risk?, risky behaviors and safe sex practices, etc.
SEMO Health Network, Lincoln University, HIV/AIDS Risk Program-Southeast Region and local health departments are among groups that will provide information.
Ahteel is offering the event through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant.
A nonprofit corporation, Ahteel (Samelton's first name spelled backward) formed about a year ago with the mission to promote family regeneration through education, outreach, referral and counseling services.
Samelton, who previously worked as an outreach to pregnant women and youth, started the organization with some former co-workers.
Meanwhile, anyone who is concerned for themselves or someone else should attend Saturday's event, Robinson said. Information will be available for parents on how to talk to their children and for youths on how to talk to their partners, she said.
"We have done similar things over the years with different groups and organizations. They're always a success," Robinson said. "If we get the message across to anyone, it makes the whole thing a success."
Transportation will be provided if needed. For more information or to inquire about transportation, contact Samelton at (573) 481-0733.