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JACQUES Initiative Joins Maryland AIDS Administration to Extend HIV Testing to the Faith-Based Community

by Staff
July 22, 2009
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BALTIMORE, (christiansunite.com) -- Today, the JACQUES Initiative, a program of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in partnership with the Maryland AIDS Administration, several local faith-based and community organizations kicked-off Project SHALEM during City Uprising Baltimore, a four day event sponsored by the Gallery Church Baltimore. Volunteers from nine states along the East Coast descend upon Baltimore to offer community services, including encouraging Baltimoreans to know their HIV status and get tested. Project SHALEM is an unconventional partnership that seeks to take the stereotype and anxiety out of HIV testing through faith-based organizational support. The name, "Shalem," was chosen for its universal expression in all faiths -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- symbolizing "peace" or "a safe place."

"The JACQUES Initiative is excited to launch Project SHALEM which is built on community presence and the technical expertise of the Institute of Human Virology to promote education, counseling, testing and linkages to care in Baltimore City," said Derek Spencer, MS CRNP, Executive Director of the JACQUES Initiative. "It is my hope that Project SHALEM serves as a model program for other cities on how to engage faith-based organizations in breaking down stigma by openly talking about the impact of HIV in their community."

Through Project SHALEM faith-based volunteers participate in an unprecedented HIV testing and counseling training sponsored by the Maryland AIDS Administration and supported by the JACQUES Initiative's technical expertise and on-site mentoring and support. These faith-based volunteers are then qualified to bring HIV testing and education into communities where members feel safe to be tested for HIV. While today marks the kick-off of Project SHALEM in coordination with City Uprising Baltimore, the long-term program is staged in two phases with Phase 1 engaging the JACQUES Initiative's existing partners from the Christian community -- including HopeSprings, a long-term partner comprised of two local churches with 30 members participating in Project SHALEM. Phase II will engage new partners, including Baltimore's Jewish and Muslim communities. The ultimate goal is to build the foundation for a sustainable Project SHALEM and finally put the first real dent in combating the HIV crisis within Baltimore's strong faith-based communities.

"We must increase our coordination and collaborative efforts to scale up HIV prevention messages, and increase access to HIV counseling, testing and treatment," said Dr. Angela Wakhweya, Deputy Director of the Maryland DHMH AIDS Administration. "We thank the JACQUES Initiative for their leadership in coordinating this event to increase HIV awareness and testing in Baltimore City."

Maryland AIDS Administration 2007 data shows the largest proportion, greater than 70%, of new and living cases of HIV are in Baltimore City, Prince Georges and Montgomery County. The Centers for Disease Control's estimates from 2006, reports 21% of Americans infected with HIV do not know they are infected and those unaware of their HIV status are responsible for more than half of the new sexually transmitted infections in the U.S.

When asked about his church's participation in this project nationally known Reverend Frank Reid of Bethel AME Church stated, "We are proud to be a partner of the JACQUES Initiative and IHV. We are trying to put together a partnership that will be a model for cities across the nation where churches will become health centers for people with HIV and hypertension. There are more churches in our community than there are hospitals."

During today's City Uprising, out-of-state volunteers, community and faith-based supporters and the JACQUES Initiative will recruit citizens to eleven HIV testing sites across Baltimore with a goal to test 1,000 members of the public for HIV.

About JACQUES Initiative

In 2002, the Institute of Human Virology 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 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.

About the Institute of Human Virology (IHV)

Formed in 1996 as a partnership between the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, the University System of Maryland and the University of Maryland Medical System, IHV is an institute of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is home to some of the most globally-recognized and world-renowned experts in all of virology. IHV is the first center in the United States to combine the disciplines of basic research, epidemiology and clinical research in a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune disorders -- most notably the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

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