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HIV/AIDS Symposium at Meharry Medical College

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research at Meharry Medical College is bringing together religious leaders of Tennessee to begin dialogue and develop strategies for addressing the impact of sexuality on the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in the black community. “Spread the Good Word, Not HIV” will be held March 26-27 for state religious leaders on the Meharry campus.

 Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, director of the center, notes it is imperative for churches to be part of the community dialogue about HIV/AIDS. “We know it is sometimes hard for churches to raise these types of issues with their congregations,” Hildreth said. “But it is crucial for churches – particularly black churches – to raise awareness about HIV in their spiritual communities because many of their members rarely seek HIV testing.”

“Spread the Good Word, Not HIV” is an initiative for the Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research at Meharry to cultivate partnerships with local, regional and national communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. The Center is working to disseminate knowledge, provide assistance for treatment, and investigate the behavioral, biological and environmental factors that perpetuate transmission. Within the breakout sessions held during “Spread the Good Word, Not HIV,” the Center intends to derive a plan of action to take into the communities where participants’ churches are located. This hands-on approach between religious leaders and medical researchers will increase awareness, testing accessibility and ultimately, prevention of transmission of HIV.


This is the inaugural year for “Spread the Good Word, Not HIV” and it has attracted keynote speakers such as the Rev.Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D., Commissioner of the Department of Health for the State of Tennessee and Pastor and Chief Executive of the St. Andrew’s AME Church in Memphis, and the Rev. Edwin Clifton Sanders II, Senior Servant and founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville.

Also speaking will be Hildreth and Dr. Stephanie Sweet, assistant professor, gynecologist, and vice chair-clinical skills in the Department of Medical Education at Meharry. Sweet organized a coalition with local religious leaders to expand the effort of the black church in preventing the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS. The “Spread the Good Word, Not HIV” symposium was developed as a result of this coalition.

About the Keynote Speakers

Robinson was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen in February 2003 to be Commissioner of the Department of Health for the State of Tennessee. In this capacity, he serves as the state’s chief health officer, overseeing the department’s promotion, protection and improvement of the health of all Tennesseans.

Sanders is a member of the Alcohol and Drug Council of Middle Tennessee and has served as a commissioner for the Tennessee Human Rights Partnership. In April 1998, he was appointed to the Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention. President George Bush appointed Sanders in 2002 to serve on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. 

Each of the keynote speakers has worked tirelessly in the community and in government to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS, especially in the African American community where the percentage of HIV cases is rising alarmingly among women.

About The Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research at Meharry

The Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research is a recently established research center funded by the National Institutes of Health. The Center is working to identify factors responsible for the profoundly disproportionate burden of AIDS and HIV infection among minority populations in the United States.

The Center features the work of four renowned HIV researchers: Hildreth, an internationally known AIDS scientist, is developing a “chemical condom” to prevent HIV transmission among women. Dr. Waldemar Popik is investigating how HIV emerges from cells, which will lead to new approaches for preventing the spread of the virus within the human body. Dr. Bindong Liu is researching the body’s natural immunity to AIDS through proteins called host restriction factors and why these proteins do not function as well in some populations. Dr. Donald Alcendor is studying HIV-related cancers in minority populations.

Another major emphasis of the Center’s research is to understand the motivations behind risky behaviors that put minorities more at risk for HIV infection than the population as a whole. The Center also is working to establish strong community-outreach programs, particularly partnerships with faith-based organizations. Through these partnerships, the Center intends to more effectively promote public education regarding AIDS prevention and to initiate strategies that will break the cycle of HIV transmission in minority populations.

About Meharry Medical College

Meharry Medical College is the nation’s largest private, independent historically black institution dedicated solely to educating health science professionals. The College is particularly well known for its uniquely nurturing, highly effective educational programs; preeminence in health disparities research; culturally sensitive, evidence-based health services; and significant contribution to the diversity of the nation’s health professions workforce. Black Issues in Higher Education’s ranking of institutions annually lists Meharry as a leading national educator of African Americans, with M.D. and D.D.S. degrees and Ph.D. degrees in the biomedical sciences.

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