Friends dine to fight HIV/AIDS

Ellis

We gasped in 1991 when Magic Johnson announced he had tested positive for HIV.

Back then, everyone thought beating the deadly disease a long shot. Magic, true to his name, defied the odds.

But Magic has money and great access to health care, local officials said.

While many believe HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, Lowcountry AIDS Services’ Bradley Childs said, “the disease continues to have a devastating impact on our low-income residents, especially within our minority communities.”

Meds can run $12,000 to $50,000 a year.

Childs’ agency, gearing up for its May 5 fundraiser, Dining with Friends, has been providing services for HIV/AIDS patients for 27 years.Last year, it tested 1,357, identified 27 who tested positive and served 563 clients, including Clara Ellis.

It was her lifestyle Ellis was not shocked when diagnosed with HIV in 2006. She knew it was her lifestyle: drugs — crack and rock cocaine. And unprotected sex. Mostly to support her drug addiction.

Ellis at the time was a homeless prostitute with a criminal record. She was in a drug treatment program when she became ill, throwing up blood, weighing only 78 pounds.

Ellis knew about AIDS but “didn’t give it much of a thought.”

According to DHEC, nearly 15,000 people in the state are living with HIV/AIDS: 10,200 men, 4,508 women and 181 under age 20.

African-Americans are disproportionately affected. Black men make up 47 percent of those living with HIV; black women 25 percent; 19 percent white men; 5 percent white women; 3 percent Hispanic/Latino.

Black women between 30 and 50 have the highest rate of new infections, passed along by husbands and boyfriends, Childs said.

He said women should insist their partners get tested. It is free, with results in 20 minutes.

All races should be tested As for Ellis, she is clean now — no drugs or risky behavior. “I do drink beer, occasionally.” The mother of a 38-year-old son and six grands, Ellis works and has a GED. She’s mostly at home, plays cards with her neighbors and likes R&B.

They all know she is HIV-positive. She told them. “You can live a happy, normal life with medicine.”

But Ellis wants to keep it real.

She knows women who don’t take the disease seriously. She encourages them to believe in themselves, get tested, practice safe sex.

While the disease affects more blacks, “It’s best for all races to get tested. Just because you are not African-American don’t mean you won’t get it.”

Ellis always wanted to be a math teacher. Looking back, she would not have used drugs, because drugs led her to “do whatever it took” to get more drugs.

“I am still good at math, though,” she smiles.

For testing sites and Dining with Friends info, contact information@aidsservices.com or 747-2273.