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Free HIV testing in Brunswick on Thursday
Though HIV can touch anyone's life, there is one group it affects more than others: Black Americans.

Blacks face the most severe burden of HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, among all racial groups in the nation. That's why two community organizations are partnering to offer free HIV testing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at HIS Ministries, 2009 Norwich St., Brunswick, Thursday, which is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Those who participate in the testing event will know their status before leaving. During the waiting period, health professionals will help develop a health plan.

"It's in a crisis in the black community," said Diane Brooks, director of quality managementfor Gateway Behavioral Health Services that is partnering with HIS Ministries to provide free testing.

HIV and AIDS are considered the third leading cause of death among black women and men aged 35 to 44. Although black individuals make up approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 44 percent of those living with HIV and 44 percent of new infections each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials predict that one in 16 black men and one in 32 black women will contract HIV during their lifetime. It is estimated that up to 59 percent of those infected could be unaware they have the disease.

Taking a local look, the numbers are even more startling.

In 2009, Georgia had the sixth highest reported number of AIDS cases in the nation. In 2010, 40,328 cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in the state. Also in 2010, there were 970 reported cases of HIV and 1,271 reported cases of AIDS in the Coastal Health District.

The Coastal Health District includes Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties.

Outside of metro Atlanta, the Coastal Health District had one of the highest AIDS prevalence rates in 2010.

Because of the stigma that surrounds sexually transmitted diseases, individuals may avoid getting tested, making it all the more important to bring resources to those at risk, said Bill Thomas, founder of HIS Ministries.

"There's a lot of drug culture around that area and, of course, we have prostitution and a lot of HIV in the area," Thomas said referring to the need to bring testing into neighborhoods.

* Reporter Nikki Wiley writes about government, business and other local topics. Contact her at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 321.

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