(Samantha Elliott/MJ)
(Samantha Elliott/MJ)

BY LAURA CLARK, Staff Writer

“Over 30 million people worldwide are said to be infected with HIV,” according to two local leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

On Thursday evening, AIDS in Black & Brown, a public forum facilitated by Yolanda Moore and Felix Sirls, was held at UM-Dearborn to discuss the effect of HIV/AIDS on the African-American and Latino communities.

Moore and Sirls are both community mental health professionals who specialize in dealing with HIV/AIDS. They led the discussion by providing statistics about the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus), is a disease that is passed through the exchange of bodily fluids, most commonly though sexual contact or the sharing of needles. It shuts down a person’s immune system and blocks their ability to fight illnesses, from colds to cancer. HIV can turn into AIDS once an infected person’s T cell count drops low enough. A normal T cell range is anywhere from 700-1000. Once a person’s T cell count drops below 200, they are diagnosed with AIDS.

“You do not acquire AIDS. AIDS is advanced HIV. And you don’t die from AIDS, you die from your body’s inability to fight off other illnesses,” Sirls said.

Sirls also discussed the ways in which the disease perpetuates itself in the black community. “Fifty nine percent of the people living with HIV in Michigan are black,” said Sirls.

Moore and Sirls strongly encouraged all people to test for HIV. They said that many people neglect to do so, usually because of either fear of a diagnosis or lack of education about the disease, and sometimes live for years with HIV without receiving proper care for it. Some are also reluctant to test, and as a result, put others at risk.

“Once you test,” said Moore, “you become legally responsible to notify and protect every other human being you have come into contact with. Those people can then make the decision to get tested or not.”

“The window period for HIV to show up is 25 days. That’s how long it takes from the day you get infected until the day you can see the antibodies in the virus,” Sirls said.

Following the information Moore and Sirls provided, a question and answer portion of the forum gave the audience an opportunity to ask questions about HIV and its effect on the community.

Moore and Sirls answered questions about transmission and protection, and discussed the importance of educating people about the serious consequences of acquiring this disease.

“In the entire state of Michigan there are 19,500 HIV positive people,” said Moore. “Of all of those HIV positive people living in Michigan, 37.5% live in Detroit.”

To find out more information about Michigan HIV statistics via email, sign up at www.michigan.gov/hivstd.