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Counselor Helps People Cope with HIV/AIDS in Washington DC

The D.C. Department of Health says that new HIV infections are reported in Washington at a rate nine times that of the entire United States. African Americans make up more than 80-percent of those cases in the District. We report on how one U.S. citizen is Making a Difference by testing and counseling those with the disease.

Pernell Williams, helping people cope with HIV/AIDs.

All types of people come to Pernell Williams for free testing to see if they have AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

He is an HIV counselor working at the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Max Robinson Center in Washington.

If someone tests positive, Pernell guides them to services within the clinic and community. He also counsels people to help educate them on HIV prevention and risk reduction.

"HIV is a serious disease," Pernell says, "It is a serious illness, but it is not a death sentence."

Pernell says many people are living longer with the disease. It is his goal to help them live more productive lives, but he says it is hard to overcome the disease's stigma.

"A lot of minorities do not even believe that they could have it because they still think it is just a gay, white men's disease, and it could not be further from the truth," he explained.

The Max Robinson Center is located in southwest Washington. The infection rates in some of these neighborhoods are as high as areas in sub-Saharan Africa.

Pernell says one-in-20 people living in this predominately African American part of Washington are HIV-positive. But few know there status.
"My passion as part of my job is to get as many people to be tested as possible," he said.

Pernell talks with his patients about the best way to reach others in the community. He also says he uses a two-part approach with his patients, combining both individual counseling and group therapy.

He says he believes every effort can help make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "If we can change things here, if we can make a difference on this corner, in this Ward, in this city, then the reverberations can help the entire country," he asserts, "And in fact, we can help rid the world of HIV and AIDS."

For Pernell and others it is a daunting task that he says will take decades to achieve, but he is committed to doing his part.