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Volunteers Take to the Streets of Baltimore in Fight Against HIV/AIDS

July 19, 2010

Elijah_Cummings.jpg
 Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
 

Faith-Based Volunteers Provide “Safe Haven” for Testing

July 19, 2010, Baltimore, MD – Hundreds of volunteers and medical staff took to the streets of Baltimore’s communities to encourage individuals to visit one of fourteen free HIV testing locations located across the city. The group of volunteers is led by the JACQUES Initiative, a program of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health Administration (IDEHA), The Baltimore City Health Department, and numerous local faith-based and community organizations.

“The AIDS/HIV epidemic that is occurring in our country is one which has managed to remain relatively underreported, despite the fact that it affects millions each year,” said U.S. House of Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD). “We can work harder, and do much better in combating this terrible disease, which has particularly been a scourge on the streets of Baltimore. Working with the faith-based community is just one way we must become more effective and efficient in our efforts to let people know they have the disease. This is the first step down the path toward ridding this nation of HIV/AIDS, once and for all.”

Leaders from City Uprising Baltimore and Project SHALEM have come together again this year and combined their efforts to provide a day of free HIV testing, counseling and linkage to care. Building from their success last year of 900 tested, the initiative this year plans to test 1500 citizens, or more, today. City Uprising Baltimore is part of an annual community service project led by Gallery Church and its members from across the nation while Project SHALEM is a sustainable, yet unconventional partnership between medical providers and the faith-based community that seeks to take the stereotype and anxiety out of HIV testing through faith-based organizational support. The name, “Shalem,” has a universal expression in many faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – symbolizing “peace” or “a safe place.”

More than 90 volunteers recruited by faith-based organizations such as Hopesprings have been trained to perform HIV testing in our communities. Volunteers are not limited to their faith-based affiliation and extend their services to places such as soup kitchens, transitional houses and even outdoor festivals to provide free HIV testing.

”I believe if you want to change a city you must engage the city,” states Derek Spencer, Executive Director of the JACQUES Initiative. ”We can’t sit and wait in our academic centers for people to present with AIDS, so we’ve engaged community volunteers from a wide spectrum of organizations to increase our capacity in our efforts to reach Baltimoreans.”

Just in this past year, Project SHALEM has tested over 1400 citizens for HIV and assured linkage to care for 27 Baltimoreans in addition to the opportunity to share a prevention message during each HIV test “It has been an honor to share Project SHALEM with faith-based leaders and healthcare providers in hard-hit cities across the nation, and in neighboring cities such as Washington, D.C.,” continued Spencer. “Today we have entire families, our JACQUES Initiative clients and businessmen all joined together to make a difference in the city’s HIV crisis.”

“In Maryland, there are between 6,000 and 9,000 people who have HIV and do not know it,” said Heather Hauck, Director of the Maryland Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration. “We ask everyone to test for HIV at least once annually and to get into care if they are positive so that they can live longer and healthier.”

“This event known as 'City Uprising' is about friends working together,” said Pastor Ellis Prince of Gallery Church Baltimore. “Some of our friends work in the faith-based community, others in government, some the social sector, and others in medicine. Some of our friends in Baltimore have HIV and don’t realize it and others have HIV and feel they don’t have a safe place to be treated and accepted,” said Prince. “Today will change this, because hundreds of people are making a sacrifice for their friends.”

Prince continues, “Gallery Church’s mission is to display God’s greatness in Baltimore. When Gallery Church started City Uprising in 2009 we had no idea where it would lead. In the process, we have discovered so many amazing people leading organizations and helping to create safe places for people with HIV. Gallery Church Baltimore counts it a privilege and an honor for the second year in a row to serve as a launching pad for the JACQUES Initiative’s Project Shalem program.”

About JACQUES Initiative

In 2002, the Institute of Human Virology was awarded $400,000 from The Abell Foundation to launch the JACQUES Initiative National Pilot Program. This pilot program demonstrated the success of providing daily and weekly observed therapy to help people living with HIV and treated with antiretroviral therapy overcome barriers of adherence to their HIV medications. Through public and private funding, the JACQUES Initiative has grown and currently provides HIV care and support to Baltimoreans including HIV primary medical care, case management, transportation, HIV testing and linkage to care in addition to its unique treatment adherence program.

 

About the Institute of Human Virology (IHV)

Formed in 1996 as a partnership between the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, the University System of Maryland and the University of Maryland Medical System, IHV is an institute of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is home to some of the most globally-recognized and world-renowned experts in all of virology, including the co-discoverer of HIV and developer of the HIV blood test, Director, Robert C. Gallo, MD. IHV is the first center in the United States to combine the disciplines of basic research, epidemiology and clinical research in a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune disorders - most notably HIV, the cause of AIDS.