On December 4, 2011, in commemoration of World AIDS DAY 2011, the DC Mayor’s Office on African Affairs partnered with the Ethiopian Community Center, and the Department of Health‘s HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA) to host a discussion on HIV/AIDS and its impact on Africans in Africa as well as in District.
The event highlighted the efforts of Hirut Gedlu, a single person on a bicycle, who has engaged thousands in the last ten years through her HIV/AIDS education and awareness efforts in Ethiopia. Through the screening of a documentary film chronicling Hirut’s work entitled: “It is not too late for me, how about you?” this event was a call to individuals, community organizations and government to be proactive & vocal in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The 3-hour event on Sunday was kicked off by Mrs. Hermela Kebede, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Community Center who welcomed the crowd, praised Hirut’s exemplary work, and expressed her organization’s commitment to working on HIV/AIDS.
HAHSTA Deputy Bureau Chief of Prevention, Mrs. Carolyn Thompson, followed with a presentation on the work of the DC Department of Health on HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia through the Twinning Cities program between the District and Addis Ababa, as well as in the District targeting African immigrants. She pointed out that while there are similar challenges and high rates of infection on both fronts, there is even more work to do in reaching, engaging and testing African immigrants in the District in culturally appropriate ways.
DC Mayor’s Office on African Affairs Director Ngozi Nmezi stressed the need for data collection that includes country of origin in order to understand the full extent to which the African immigrant community is affected. She quoted a 2008 study which indicates that only 360 foreign-born Africans were reported to be living with HIV/AIDS in the District, a number that is likely an undercount. Ms. Nmezi further highlighted the importance of partnering with various District agencies, community groups, and nonprofit organizations to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, “…this ensures that HIV/AIDS resources and information reach all facets of the diverse African communities in the District, ” said Director Nmezi.
Finally after watching the documentary, teary-eyed participants asked questions like “What can I do to help?”, “How can we better engage foreign-born Africans in the District?” to which Hirut replied, “It’s not too late, for each of us to support those living with HIV, to stop the stigma and discrimination, and to ensure that no new infections occur.”
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