Project SHALEM to Test More Than 1,000 Baltimoreans Today for HIV

June 28, 2011

Community volunteers provide “safe haven” for testing over 4,500 Baltimoreans since 2009

BALTIMORE, June 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Project SHALEM has tested 3,556 Baltimoreans for HIV since 2009, and by the end of today, Project SHALEM hopes to increase this number by 1,000. Comprised of hundreds of volunteers and medical staff, Project SHALEM brings free HIV testing to the public through many community organizations, including the faith-based community. By coordinating periodic large-scale efforts to encourage HIV testing hosted through respected neighborhood organizations, such as today’s events, Project SHALEM seeks to reach at-risk community members who might otherwise not be tested or receive appropriate medical care.

“I tested positive for HIV in 1991,” said Kathy Bennett, 51 years old, and a treatment coach for the JACQUES Initiative, a program of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It is so important for people to learn HIV/AIDS prevention and understand that if they are positive, they could live a happy, healthy life with proper intervention and medication. When I was first diagnosed, I promised to live to see my granddaughter graduate from High School – which I did just this past month. There is hope.”

“It is imperative as leaders of our churches that we energize congregations to take action against Baltimore’s HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Pastor Eric King of St. Mathews United Methodist Church. “SHALEM means peace or safe haven in the Christian, Judaic and Islamic faiths. Collectively, we are a familiar and safe place for the public to receive free HIV/AIDS testing, peer-to-peer counseling and ultimately linkage to healthcare.”

The group of volunteers is led by the JACQUES Initiative, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health Administration (IDEHA), The Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD), and numerous local faith-based and community organizations.

“This year marks a thirty year commemoration of the first chronicled cases of an illness that would later become known as HIV and AIDS,” states Derek Spencer, Executive Director of the JACQUES Initiative. “As we look to the next thirty years in treating, preventing and engaging our communities in this crisis, we believe today’s event is an opportunity to show a positive story of partnership and collaboration between an academic center, state and city regulatory agencies and concerned citizens giving their time to make a difference in our city.”

Today, hundreds of volunteers including housewives, business people, grandmothers, students and many others will participate in a large testing event held across the city in community organizations ranging from churches to transitional houses and food kitchens in areas with a high prevalence of HIV infection.

“We believe there are 6,000-9,000 citizens in our state who are living with HIV and unaware of their status,” says Heather Hauck, Director of the Maryland Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration. “Events such as today assist us to share a message of prevention and also provide hope and linkage to care to receive effective treatment for those who are HIV infected.”

Various services at the seven sites will not only offer free HIV testing and linkage to care, but free lunches, case management and substance abuse counseling, syphilis screenings and HIV and AIDS education.

Today’s testing event is held within an annual community service project called “City Uprising Baltimore” led by the Gallery Church and its members from across the nation. “We believe if you propel the church you prosper the city,” says Pastor Ellis Prince, Gallery Church of Baltimore. “We will be doing light construction & renewal projects in several Baltimore City Public Schools and city parks, and are happy to join the JACQUES Initiative and its partners to promote HIV testing, treatment and prevention.”

“The church has ignored the HIV/AIDS pandemic for far too long, and we, as a faith-based organization, are here to awaken, equip, and engage the church in restoring hope and healing to those affected by HIV/AIDS,” says Erin Donovan, Executive Director of HopeSprings and partner of JACQUES Initiative in this effort. “We seek the eradication of HIV and its stigma, which can only be done through partnerships with both the faith-based and community organizations, medical community, and the government.”

About JACQUES Initiative
In 2002, the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine was awarded $400,000 from The Abell Foundation to launch the JACQUES Initiative National Pilot Program. This pilot program demonstrated the success of providing daily and weekly observed therapy to help people living with HIV and treated with antiretroviral therapy overcome barriers of adherence to their HIV medications. Through public and private funding, the JACQUES Initiative has grown and currently provides HIV care and support to Baltimoreans including HIV primary medical care, case management, transportation, HIV testing and linkage to care in addition to its unique treatment adherence program.

SOURCE Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Source: newswire

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