Philly nonprofits to observe National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Keira Ragsdale, of Bebashi, displays a testing kit (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Two nonprofit organizations are spearheading local efforts to commemorate National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Tuesday.

The day of awareness comes as HIV affects African-American heterosexual women more than women of any other race or ethnicity, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Black Women’s Health Imperative is marking the March 10 observance by launching LUNA Unleashed, a comic book series that seeks to empower readers to make informed decisions, battle misinformation and advance the conversation about sexual health among Black women.

“When we look at health messaging, the billboards and the radio ads, they don’t directly aim to focus on Black women,” said Nakesha Powell, who manages Black Women’s Health Imperative’s HIV/AIDS programming.

“We’re oftentimes left out of the conversation. So we thought, what’s a non-traditional, fun, educational way to reach Black women and so we came up with the series LUNA Unleashed.”

The five-part comic series depicts cis and transgender Black women as superheroes on a quest to encourage HIV awareness and prevention. It also addresses the intersection of HIV transmission and social determinants of health.

“Oftentimes when we talk about HIV, we miss all those other risk factors that contributes to us contracting HIV like intimate partner violence, poverty, homelessness [and] substance abuse,” Powell said.

The comic book series will be unveiled Tuesday during an event from 4 to 7 p.m. at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, 2578 Frankford Ave. You can RSVP here.

And sexual health organization Bebashi Transition to Hope is marking the awareness day by hosting a free STD testing event on Tuesday for young people 13 and up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1235 Spring Garden St.

“We’re just making the community aware of the importance of getting tested and knowing your status,” said Kiera Ragsdale, prevention education services supervisor at Bebashi.

The focus on testing comes as youth aged 13 to 24 made up 21 percent (8,164) of the 38,739 new HIV diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas in 2017, according to the CDC.

Bebashi’s prevention department aims to educate young people by hosting safe sex and reproductive health presentations at local high schools, after-school programs and organizations that serve adjudicated teens.

“We’re just trying to meet them where they’re at and provide them with information that they may not necessarily be getting in school or at home,” Ragsdale said.

“What we are looking to do is ultimately get them to come back to our office and take advantage of our testing services. Ultimately we want them to get tested, know their status and remain healthy.”

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared