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Call and Post

Garden Valley among highest new HIV cases

Rhonda Crowder | 12/6/2013, 12:39 p.m.
Jan Ridgeway

By RHONDA CROWDER

Staff Reporter

As an African American media outlet, the Call and Post Newspaper knows and understands that HIV/AIDS is wrecking havoc on the Black community. Across the United States, more than 30 years into the disease, Blacks make more new cases of HIV/AIDS than any other ethnic group and is also less likely to receive access to care.

So, after attending last year’s International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. and hearing the pleas for Black media to use their power in educating our community about HIV/AIDS, we figured it was time to do something other than print stories in the newspaper.

With that, the paper’s leadership decided to host a World AIDS Day event.

In preparation for this event, we learned that one eastside Cleveland neighborhood has been hit extremely hard by HIV/AIDS. According to Jan Ridgeway, interim director at Garden Valley Neighborhood House, Garden Valley is a community with many needs and preventing HIV/AIDS is one.

Ridgeway came to this realization when, one day, she walked out of the center door to head home only to be stopped by a car load of young ladies. They wanted to know if the center, more popularly known for its food pantry, conducted HIV/AIDS testing. She told them no and directed them toward The Free Medical Clinic on Euclid Avenue. But the young ladies told her they would rather do it in the community.

That left Ridgeway thinking. “It was the first awakening for me to do something here in Garden Valley,” said the retired librarian who immediately started to study the issue as it relates to that community.

“In doing the research, I found out that Garden Valley and Central have the highest rates of new HIV/AIDS in the city of Cleveland. Not in the county, because the county includes East Cleveland with high rates in that area as well but definitely in the city of Cleveland,” said Ridgeway.

When asked, what is it about Garden Valley that would produce higher incidences of HIV/AIDS, she said, “It’s a huge stigma related to AIDS. It still is.” She went on to attribute the high poverty level in addition to the number of young Black males returning to that community after being incarcerated as a just a couple of contributing factors.

“Garden Valley has some of the highest rates of African American young men, ages 16 to 24, in the prison system,” said Ridgeway. “We know that there is a high rate of infection in the prison system and what we believe is that many of our young men come out of the prison system and may have had some contact there.”

Ridgeway said these men – for whatever reason – are having sex in prison then returning to heterosexual relationships upon release. She also revealed that the newest demographic groups becoming infected with HIV/AIDS are seniors and heterosexual woman.

“That’s a surprise to a lot of people, but that’s where it is,” said Ridgeway.

After gathering her facts, Ridgeway went to the Free Medical Clinic and sat down with Lisa Fair, HIV/AIDS teen coordinator. Ridgeway learned more about the work of “The Free Clinic,” and the two quickly discovered they were on the same page.