A New Generation of HIV Infections, A New Mission for Augusta AIDS Ministry

By Lou Portero - Last Updated: January 4, 2022

The Augustan Metropolitan Community Church on Wednesday, 1st of December 2021, held a remembrance service for World AIDS Day to pay respect to those affected with HIV. In the wake of this remembrance, the St. Stephen Ministry of Augusta, which was founded over thirty years ago to serve individuals with HIV decided to change its mission.

The Ministry’s chair, Sallie Shuford, confirmed that the organization was created to provide care for infected people when the disease was the major subject of conversation and was still viewed as an untreatable killer. She, however, stated that modern-day prevention and treatment measures have made a life with HIV no more a death sentence.

Despite these commendable improvements, the incoming board chair Jennifer Rahner has made it known that youths are still contracting the virus and that the stigma related to HIV was still very much around. Jordan Brack, a local HIV case manager, reported that so many people are contracting the virus without having any previous care plan in place due to negligence because the disease had become very manageable. A family resident at the Augustan University Ryan White program, Soren Estvold, reported that nearly 1200 HIV patients are presently undergoing treatment from the program.

Brack also noted that 30% of new cases were Black, gay men in their early through the late twenties. He also noted that while the second-largest division remained unknown, the third included mainly transgender individuals.

In 2020, the St. Stephen’s board made it known that the organization was no longer financially able to run housing and treatment of patients. It ran a survey among members of the community to determine where available funds would be most useful in the treatment of the disease. In the results, the majority opted for improved education and awareness coupled with stigma handling to better prevent and treat the disease.

On Wednesday, Sallie Shuford declared that the board would no longer provide direct care for HIV patients. Funds would be directed towards making the organization a grant-making and fundraising body with a keen interest in community awareness. Rahner says her goal is to ensure non-shaming education to keep people safe from stigma and from contracting the virus.

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