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Burden of AIDS; $97,000 to fund women's HIV initiative.

Byline: Richard Nangle

WORCESTER - The percentage of women among people in Worcester diagnosed with AIDS is well above the state average, and higher than most other communities in the state, according to statistics by the state Department of Public Health.

Yesterday, the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts announced a planning grant of $97,536 to AIDS Project Worcester to support a women's HIV initiative that would do something about that. Health Foundation President Jan Yost said she expects support for the project to reach $1 million within three to five years.

Interim APW Director Joseph D. McKee said the grant and the program it will fund addresses a significant local need that people on the front lines of the fight against AIDS believe has been too long ignored.

"Our goals for this planning process are to assess the need for HIV/AIDS and intimate partner violence prevention services, based on the services currently available in the region and to find evidence-based strategies that we can pilot here to reduce new cases of HIV/AIDS," Mr. McKee said.

The Women's HIV Initiative will address the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in 250 Central Massachusetts women.

"These are the women that I see every day," said Linda O'Reilly, nurse practitioner in the HIV Clinic at the university campus of UMass Memorial Health Care and an APW board member. "This planning grant will help us to get the right programs and services in place for women infected and to prevent the further spread of this disease through the use of education, peer support and other innovative programs."

APW will be the lead agency in a collaborative that will include members of the targeted populations, medical and human service providers, educators and others. The participating organizations will include the Family Health Center, Daybreak/YMCA of Central Massachusetts and Pernet Family Health Service.

The mission is to design and implement research-based strategies to address the spread of the disease, in part, by addressing causative social risk factors including intimate partner violence, substance abuse and addiction, stigma, discrimination and gender inequality.

This month, the state Department of Public Health released statistics showing that of the state's three regions, Central Massachusetts has the highest percentage of women, 35 percent, among people diagnosed with AIDS. Leading health indicators related to that figure were deemed to be the city's rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Worcester's teen pregnancy rate in 2003 was 38 per 1,000 compared to the state level of 22.6 per 1,000. Gonorrhea and chlamydia in Worcester were twice the statewide rate for youth between the ages of 15-19.

The Health Foundation noted that many of the women in the region with HIV and AIDS are also economically and socially disadvantaged, of color, undereducated with limited or no English skills, young and often unmarried with children.

Constance M. Santiago of Worcester, an APW client diagnosed with HIV in 1989, said she was worried at first that she would not live to see her children grow up. Now a grandmother with an AIDS diagnosis, Ms. Santiago said she adheres to a medical regimen that allows her live as normal a life as possible.

The new grant and the women's HIV initiative, she said, will allow more women that opportunity.

Julia Rayner, a consumer representative on the APW board, agreed. She said the programs at APW have allowed her to live with and be open about a disease that she could not even discuss with others just a few years ago. Ms. Rayner, who has AIDS, said she hopes state lawmakers will beef up AIDS spending, which is down about 30 percent from its level of five years ago.

The Health Foundation, established in 1999 after the sale of Central Massachusetts Health Care, has assets of about $64 million. The foundation began awarding grants in 2000 and has handed out in excess of $12 million.

Contact Richard Nangle by e-mail at rnangle@telegram.com.

ART: PHOTOS; CHARTS

PHOTOG: (PHOTOS) T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG (CHARTS) T&G Staff/STACEY ARSENAULT

CUTLINE: (PHOTO 1) Clients of AIDS Project Worcester, Constance M. Santiago, left, and Julia Rayner, both of Worcester, talk to reporters after an announcement that AIDS Project Worcester for Women's HIV Initiative received a grant of $97,536 from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. (PHOTO 2) Sandra M. Davis of Worcester, living with HIV since 1996, has been a client of AIDS Project Worcester since 2002. (CHARTS) AIDS cases
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 31, 2007
Words:747
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