State focuses on black health

The Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS is hosting its first “Sisters Organizing to Survive” conference. The event will take place in The Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando during June 20-22, said Arlinda Daniels, who is responsible for registration.

The two-day event will address the disproportionate impact that HIV/AIDS has among Florida’s black women. S.O.S. wants to develop an action plan to prevent further spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Florida’s black communities.

During the conference, a report provided by the DOH will highlight the crisis HIV/AIDS among Florida’s black women. The report will serve as a statewide call to action to gather black women to respond to the ongoing crisis in their communities, according to the Bureau of HIV/AIDS.

Leisha McKinley-Beach, program supervisor for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS prevention, said the conference will empower black women to take control of their sexual health. She added that it will connect black women to HIV/AIDS resources.

“I believe that one sista can make a difference, but 600 sistas carrying the same message can change the outcome of HIV among black women,” Beach said. “Our goal is to have at least 600 black women across the state of Florida attend our conference.”

S.O.S. will address a number of topics during the conference, which include life span approaches to HIV/AIDS, the state of black youth in Florida, effective HIV ministries, adherence and correction.

McKinley-Beach also said the conference would offer tools to enable black women to educate others where they live, work, play and worship. At the end of the conference, participants can expect to take a pledge to encourage black women to get tested for HIV and STDs.

“We want every black woman that attends the conference to take the pledge. Our pledge is to test 100,000 black women for HIV in the state of Florida each year by 2010,” Beach said. Reports show that of more than 78,000 cumulative HIV cases in Florida, 55 percent are among blacks, 28 percent are among whites and 17 percent are among Hispanics, according to FDOH statistics. Those numbers point to the fact that HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Florida for both black males and black females, according to the Florida Department of Health. Shelia Morris, HIV prevention specialist for the Leon County Health Department, said Florida has ranked third in the nation in the number of reported cases and second in the number of pediatric cases concerning HIV/AIDS.

In Florida, AIDS cases in black women are 17 times higher then white women and the HIV/AIDS death rate is 27 times higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those wanting to participate or attend the conference may register for free online at The deadline for registration is May 30.