Richmond leaders come together to fight AIDS

By Sunni Blevins - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More than 2,000 people in Richmond are living with HIV. Now, with medical services like AIDS prevention on the governor's budget chopping block, community leaders say awareness is more important than ever.

City health and church leaders gathered this morning with a common goal to continue to fight against AIDS.  Organizers describe the spread of HIV in the US as an epidemic.

Pernessa Seele with The Balm in Gilead says, "Americans can tell you all about the travesty of HIV in Africa, but don't know anything about it in their neighborhoods."

Rernessa Seele is the founder of the Balm in Bilead, a non-profit group dedicated to mobilizing faith communities in the fight against aids.

Seele says, "the people are in our churches, our mosques and our synagogues, so we want our faith communities, our faith institutions to be a community center for health and compassionate care and services."

Efforts continued Friday morning at an interfaith prayer breakfast, which brought the mayor and city health and church leaders together.  This meal was the kick-off to the national week of prayer for the healing of aids, which takes place next month, but organizers say it couldn't have come at a better time.

Earlier this week, the governor proposed a $300 million reduction in the healthcare budget, which includes funding for HIV prevention.

Pernessa says, "when aids is so alarming rising, we have cuts like this. I have been in this line of work for more than 20 years and I'm really tired of fighting budget cuts, and I believe that we have to find another way.

And this could be it: awareness through the faith-based community.

Attending Friday morning's breakfast was Richmond Health Department director Donald Stern.

He thinks this effort is a good one and says while the city has made progress in fighting HIV, now is not the time to stop.

Dr. Donald Stern says, we've been so successful at addressing the aids issue in America with the research and management and treatment of the disease so people think there's less urgency, but the urgency is still great.

The national week of prayer for the healing of aids kicks off March 7.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.