The Venice Family Clinic and Santa Monica AIDS Project have joined forces to combat HIV infection among low-income women.
The two groups are preparing to launch the Women's HIV Prevention Program. The effort will target about 5,500 sexually active women of childbearing age who are clients of the Venice Family Clinic, homeless shelters and child care centers in the Santa Monica, Venice, Mar Vista and Culver City areas.
"One of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection is now among low-income and homeless heterosexual women, particularly the minority women we are targeting here," said Abby Arnold, executive director of the Santa Monica AIDS Project, a nonprofit support and services agency for people with HIV and AIDS.
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, AIDS cases among women age 13 and older have increased dramatically. In 1986, 43 such cases were reported. In 1993, there were 272--half of which were contracted through heterosexual contact and nearly three-quarters of which involved Latina and African American women, according to John Schunhoff, director of AIDS projects for the county health department.
The Women's HIV Prevention Program, being funded by the county, will focus on prevention and education, making use of one-on-one counseling and small group classes conducted by women whose backgrounds are similar to those of the women they help.
"It is essential for the community itself to be the purveyors of this information so a sense of trust is established," said Elaine Waldman, coordinator of the program, which is expected to get under way next month.
AIDS prevention and education has not been as evident in minority heterosexual communities as in the gay community, Arnold said, yet the threat to heterosexual women is very real.
"People think of HIV as being a disease (solely affecting) gay men, and that is not true," Arnold said, adding that many women feel uncomfortable about asking their spouses or partners to use condoms.
In an effort to reach as many people as possible, the program will include workshops aimed at helping women teach family members about AIDS prevention.
"All parents want to help keep their kids safe," Arnold said. "By giving the parents good, comprehensive education, we will be educating the whole family."
She added that services will be available in Spanish through the Venice Family Clinic's "Ayudante" program.
Two field workers will visit homeless women at Sunlight Mission in Santa Monica and Bible Tabernacle Mission in Venice to discuss safe sex and the dangers of intravenous drug use.
AIDS testing will also be available as part of the program. Women who test positive will be referred to AIDS support agencies.
"Basically, we want to encourage women to make (good) choices and to protect themselves," Waldman said. "We want to help reduce the risk of acquiring the virus."