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Spelman College To Address HIV/AIDS In African Diaspora

Spelman College To Address HIV/AIDS In African Diaspora

With a series of international conferences and new health courses planned, one of the nation’s leading historically Black colleges is poised to tackle one of the most urgent issues facing women in the African Diaspora — the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Spelman College will kick off the first of three invitational conferences on women and HIV/AIDS in Senegal, West Africa, in June. These first-ever working sessions are expected to draw largely female scholars, people living with HIV/AIDS, policy-makers, researchers, community activists and volunteers of African descent. Of the estimated 3.1 million who were expected to die from HIV/AIDS in 2002, 610,000 are women and are younger than 15 years old, according to a landmark report released in November by the World Health Organization and the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS.

“We’re trying to connect people who have been working on the issue (AIDS) but haven’t had a chance to meet each other across the Diaspora,” says Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center at Spelman and conference organizer. The other two conferences scheduled for 2003-2004 will be held in Brazil, home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa, and at Spelman in Atlanta. Seven scholars, AIDS activists and people living with the disease will be among those who have been commissioned to write position papers that will be presented at the conferences.

New to work on AIDS, Spelman, a women’s college, decided to partner with Sister Love, a veteran AIDS advocacy organization for women of color based in Atlanta, to help them tap those working globally on the pandemic. Sister Love was founded by Spelman alumna Dazon Dixon Diallo.

More than 5 million people worldwide will have contracted the AIDS virus in 2002 according to the United Nations and World Health Organization, bringing the total number of those infected to 42 million, up 2 million from a year ago. About 70 percent of the cases are in hard-hit sub-Saharan Africa, the report said of the extent of the global epidemic.

“What started out a year ago as planning for a conference on women’s health, has turned into a focus on AIDS, women and the African Diaspora,” says Guy-Sheftall, who received a $250,000 Ford Foundation grant to conceptualize a concentration in health for Spelman’s 4-year-old women’s studies major. “We realized that students who were interested in women’s studies were also growing more interested in health and public health issues. We also realized that we didn’t have women’s health courses to offer them,” she adds.

Plans for expanding the curriculum also include hiring a new faculty member by September who will have joint appointments in women’s studies and medical anthropology.

— By B. Denise Hawkins

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