Indifference complicates AIDS battle Low turnout dismays organizer of forum

March 28, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Cheryl Crandall hoped to have at least 20 people attend an informal talk on AIDS at Carroll Community College on Thursday. She had to be content with 12.

"It's sad that people don't think they need to be here," said Ms. Crandall, president of Carroll County Women on the Move. "The county needs information on a health issue affecting everyone."

Ms. Crandall, a Westminster resident, said the local community's "indifference" to the fatal disease frightens her.

"People think it is not happening here," she said. "This is a community with blinders."

Gail Cromwell, a registered nurse practitioner on the faculty of the Maryland AIDS Education Center, said that, until communities recognize AIDS is a problem, indifference will continue.

"That's the way we felt in Baltimore seven years ago," she said. "We would add push pins to a map every time we had an HIV diagnosis. We learned the hard way as we watched those pins travel down blocks and through whole neighborhoods."

At Ms. Crandall's request, Ms. Cromwell led a "frank discussion" on "Women, Teens and AIDS."

"I wanted to target the teens," said Ms. Crandall. "Our best defense against AIDS is knowledge and prevention."

Ms. Cromwell works with 200 HIV-positive patients. More than half of them are women who contracted the virus, which causes AIDS, through a heterosexual relationship, she said.

"Almost everyone I see caught HIV through heterosexual sex," she said. "This is an epidemic, and it's less than an hour away from here."

Before she began the question-and-answer session, the audience viewed a informational video in which Dr. C. Everett Koop, former surgeon general, detailed the perils of the disease, which he called "the greatest threat to our health in the history of our nation."

Ms. Cromwell reviewed AIDS transmission routes -- contact with infected blood or semen -- and stressed prevention and abstinence.

"Have a set of rules for yourself," Ms. Cromwell said. "Don't put yourself at even the smallest risk for this disease."

The number of sexual partners matters little, she said. Ms. Cromwell's caseload includes a 19-year-old girl who contracted AIDS from her first sexual partner.

"What matters is if you have the bad luck to have an infected partner," she said. "When you decide to have sex, you will also be having sex with everybody your partner has slept with, and that might change your mind about intimacy."

The message to teens should be abstinence, she told the young women who were the majority of her audience. Barring abstinence, she urged her listeners to protect themselves.

"Wait until you have established mutual trust," she said. "Don't consent to sex until you have done your homework."

She also stressed drug prevention and the avoidance of drug abusers, many of whom are infected with the virus, she said.

"We have a huge problem with HIV and cocaine abusers," she said. "Cocaine acts as an aphrodisiac, and people make the worst decisions under its influence."

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