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Last modified: Monday, April 4, 2011

Rural AIDS/HIV prevention strategies shared at IU conference, focus on helping African Americans

April 4, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Emmy award-winning AIDS activist Rae Lewis-Thornton will launch the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention's seventh national conference at Indiana University Bloomington by focusing attention on the urgent need to address AIDS/HIV-related issues among African Americans.

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

The statistics are grim, with diagnoses of HIV predicted for one in six African American men in their lifetime and for one in 32 African American women. Sessions at the biennial conference, held April 7-9 at the Indiana Memorial Union at Indiana University Bloomington, also will discuss a faith-based approach to addressing the issue and prevention strategies targeting African American men who have sex with other men in the Deep South.

"These statistics are profound," said RCAP senior director William L. Yarber. "We also know that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared the HIV/AIDS epidemic a health crisis for African Americans. We want to be able to do our part in addressing this crisis and to facilitate the sharing of prevention programs that are working, particularly in rural communities."

A highlight of the conference will be the presentation of the Ryan White Distinguished Leadership Award to James W. Curran, M.D., dean and professor of epidemiology of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. Curran led the HIV research and prevention efforts of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the early days of the AIDS epidemic and was portrayed in the HBO movie And the Band Played On.

"James Curran has had a long history of being a national leader in AIDS prevention. We're recognizing him for that, but particularly for his superb leadership at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic," Yarber said. "He faced enormous barriers -- lack of recognition by the federal government of the importance of this epidemic and the lack of resources available to combat AIDS. He was very effective at navigating through all those barriers and leading the CDC's efforts to try to control HIV/AIDS."

James W. Curran

James W. Curran

People diagnosed with AIDS who live in rural areas now account for 9 percent of all cases nationwide, up from 5 percent in 1996. Despite these growing numbers, most AIDS control strategies have focused on urban communities.

Prevention specialists attending the conference, "HIV/STD Prevention in Rural Communities: Sharing Successful Strategies VII," represent community-based organizations, state and local health departments and university researchers from across the country. Sessions share best practices and address issues facing a variety of rural populations, including migrant and seasonal farmworkers, Native American youth, women in New England, and families in the Deep South.

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Activist, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, Baptist minister, blogger and Twitter sensation, Lewis-Thornton, of Chicago, was diagnosed with HIV almost 30 years ago and with AIDS 20 years ago. She travels and speaks widely about her life with AIDS as she works to change stereotypes and myths surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Her blog, Diva Living With AIDS, can be found at

Lewis-Thornton won an Emmy Award for a series of first-person reports about living with AIDS. She has received numerous awards for her advocacy work and recently received the British Academy Golden Tweet Award in public service for her foray into using the social network site Twitter to spread her message.

The public can attend Lewis-Thornton's talk at no cost on Thursday, April 7, at 2 p.m. in the Whittenberger Auditorium in the IMU. Registration is required for attendance of the remaining conference sessions and talks. Registration and fee information is available at

James W. Curran, M.D., M.P.H.

Curran will be presented the Ryan White Distinguished Leadership Award during a luncheon on Saturday. He also will deliver the keynote address, "AIDS at 30 years: Lessons learned and challenges ahead."

Curran has held his current position since 1995 and holds joint appointments in the Emory School of Medicine, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He also is co-director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research, funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Curran has written more than 260 scientific publications and serves on numerous non-profit boards and committees locally, nationally and internationally. His honors and awards include election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, of which he has served since 2005 as chair of the Board of Population Health and Public Health Practices.

About the Rural Center for AIDS/STD prevention

RCAP, funded in part by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a joint project of IU, University of Colorado and the University of Kentucky, and is headquartered at IU. The center, the only one of its type in the U.S., was created in 1994 to promote HIV/STD prevention in rural America, with the goal of reducing HIV/STD incidence. It serves as an information resource for rural prevention specialists nationwide through its fact sheets, monthly prevention bulletins, national listserv network, and biennial conference, and by conducting research on risk behavior in rural communities.

To view the conference program, visit For registration information visit

For additional information, contact Yarber, professor in the Department of Applied Health Science in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, at 812-855-7974 and