HIV/AIDS disproportionately affecting blacks in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On the outside it hardly looks like there is a thing wrong with Devondia Roseborough or Ryan Harris.

Devondia, a mother of two in Charlotte, has AIDS. She sat down for an interview with WBTV'S Christine Nelson.

"So you were having unprotected sex?," Nelson asks. "Unprotected sex, protected (sex), sex. I didn't care," Devondia replies discussing her promiscuity at the time.

Ryan is 24 and openly gay. He got HIV from a previous partner.

"There are consequences to everything we do, so that's one of them. That's something that I'm dealing with now," says Ryan.

But both Ryan and Devondia represent a demographic that literally has a bullseye on their back when it comes to this disease.

How HIV and AIDS are affecting blacks in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County is alarming.

According to the Mecklenburg County Health Department 76% of the cases seen in 2010 were among blacks.

Whites and Hispanics came in a distant second and third at 16% and 7% respectively.

"The African-American community is disproportionately affected in all parts of {Mecklenburg} county," says Dr. Susan Reif, a researcher for Duke University.

Dr. Reif has crunched the numbers on HIV and AIDS in the south. She says the multiple problems for African-Americans include access to quality healthcare once diagnosed.

"North Carolina and other states like North Carolina don't have the kind of coverage of medicaid for HIV like, for example, people in the northeast do," Dr. Reif explains.

"Housing is a huge issue I think here in Charlotte too. How can you maintain your medication if you're not stably housed?," she says.

Another element in the black community, that is alive and well, is the stigma that still exists knowing someone is HIV-positive or has AIDS.

"We did some focus groups with people who are HIV-positive and some of them talked about this area, Charlotte in particular, being worse in terms of the stigma they felt than when they lived other places," says Dr. Reif.

It's something both Devondia and Ryan say are causing people to shut down instead of open up.

"HIV, as far as in the black community, openly needs to be talked about no matter what anybody's sexual orientation is," says Ryan.

Devondia adds, "There's always a need for conversation. And any type of conversation anyone has can bring you to how to protect yourself. How to not get the disease."

It's a disease that is 100% preventable.

Devondia hopes those important conversations she already had with her girls, and in the future with her new grandchild, will stop the vicious cycle.

Another eye opener: Charlotte ranks #10 in the rate of new HIV diagnosis cases of metropolitan cities of any size in the U.S. It shares the top 10 with bigger cities like Miami, Atlanta and New York City.

If you or someone you know has HIV/AIDS and is looking for support, click here to read more about RAIN (Regional AIDS Interfaith Network) in Charlotte.

To read about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the south, click here for the full study led by Dr. Susan Reif.

Devondia Roseborough is now a motivational speaker through her organization she founded called Rasberrirose Foundation Inc. Click here for more information.

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