Pastors’ Wives HIV Initiative Produce Record Results
CHICAGO (December 2015) — Amid renewed focus on raising awareness on HIV/AIDS this month, African-American pastors’ wives across the country report making major inroads in encouraging people to get life-saving screenings for the virus.
The First Ladies Health Initiative succeeded in getting more than 1,200 community residents to get free screenings for HIV in a single day at 70 churches in Chicago and Northwest Indiana at its Health Day this year — a record for faith-based organizations.
Since launching in Chicago in 2008, the nonprofit initiative’s Walgreens-sponsored First Ladies Health Days, held at their churches annually, have enabled more than 200,000 individuals to get an array of free health screenings, including for HIV/AIDS.
Because of its influence, the First Ladies Health Initiative has been selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to participate in a national HIV campaign.
First Ladies Health Initiative Executive Director Tracey Alston credits the high volume of HIV tests taken in Chicago and Northwest Indiana this year in part to a partnership with bioLytical Laboratories that is expanding. At the Chicago Health Day, bioLytical Laboratories donated its INSTI™ 60-second rapid HIV testing kits to the Health Day and agreed that for each test administered during the day, it would donate a free test kit to the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in South Africa. In all, more than 1,200 HIV tests were administered.
“I think the philanthropic partnership component helped encourage more people to get tested,” Alston said. “People felt compelled to do this, not only to be proactive about their health, but to also help others across the globe in South Africa.”
That partnership’s reach now extends to California. For every HIV test administered during the First Ladies Health Days in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA. next year, bioLytical Laboratories will donate a free test to the foundation. It has committed to a minimum of 1,000 tests.
“We’re hopeful that the opportunity to help others while also helping themselves will be a strong motivator for Californians to get HIV tested as it was at our Health Day in Chicago and Northwest Indiana,” Alston said.
The First Ladies Health Initiative has grown to comprise 152 pastors’ wives, also known as First Ladies, across denominations at chapters in Northwest Indiana, Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, Cincinnati, OH, in addition to Chicago.
United for healthier communities, the initiative targets illnesses that disproportionately affect African-Americans and Hispanics and encourages them to be proactive about their health.
“We’ve come a long ways since we began in 2008,” Alston said. “We recognized then that one of the most urgent health needs was and still is the devastating spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color.”
That concern led Walgreens to initiate an HIV/AIDS Task Force, including the AIDS Foundation of Chicago that culminated in the formation of the First Ladies Health Days.
“What began as a pilot program combating HIV/AIDS has now expanded to also include a focus on other major illnesses that rob lives in our communities, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, hepatitis C, cancer and other illnesses,” Alston said.
But HIV remains a major priority, given the continuing risk it poses to communities of color. At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 African-American men and one in 32 African-American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, Hispanics accounted for 23 percent of the estimated new diagnoses in 2013, and less than half of Hispanics living with HIV are receiving medicines to treat their infection, according to the CDC, putting their lives at greater risk.
About First Ladies Health Initiative
The First Ladies Health Initiative holds a FREE Health Day annually in Chicago, Northwest Indiana, Los Angeles and Orange County, CA; and Cincinnati, OH. The initiative is designed to bring awareness to illnesses that disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos and to offer FREE health screenings to individuals in their communities. The program begins with an Annual Luncheon attended by nearly 200 pastors’ wives for the purpose of recruiting them to host the FREE health screenings at their churches during our First Ladies Health Day. More information is available at www.Firstladieshealth.com.