Right Choice wants greater HIV awareness for LaPlace

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

LAPLACE — Antoine M. Jasmine has heard all the excuses.

“I didn’t know y’all existed,” “I didn’t know where to get tested,” “I didn’t know anything about this” and “I didn’t know how I could contract HIV.”

That’s not good enough for the founder and CEO of the Right Choice Project, which is actively pursuing its HIV/AIDS Awareness Program because the realities in South Louisiana are too scary to ignore.

The Associated Press reported a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report based on 2010 data, of all U.S. metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 people, indicated Baton Rouge ranked second among major United States metro areas for new HIV infection diagnoses.

New Orleans ranked third. Miami was first.

“It is really bad because people are not informed,” Jasmine said. “I don’t think our government fully understands the (information) inefficiency of that considering Baton Rouge’s rank for HIV and AIDS, and we’re in the middle of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.”

To close the information gap, Right Choice Project hosted a Celebration of Black Men Champions Banquet June 22 in LaPlace, recognizing black men who have made significant contributions to the community. Those honored included Gary Bolden, Jared Dunn, Randal Gaines, Damion Johnson Sr., Kevin Lampton, Glenn Watson and Kevin Work.

The event also acted as a fundraiser and awareness effort for the HIV issue and local efforts aimed at combating it.

The Right Choice Project provides free HIV testing weekly from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesdays at 516 E. Airline Highway in LaPlace.

“There is a 20-minute waiting period,” Jasmine said. “There is no drawing blood or urine test. It is simply a swab test of the mouth, and you will know within 20 minutes.”

Jasmine said those tested are taken confidentially into a private room and given their results. If someone comes back positive, Right Choice Project refers them to another clinic for another exclusive test to make sure the test result is accurate.

“From there we keep them informed,” Jasmine said. “It is not a death sentence. You can live a happy, wholesome live. We do have some measures after (a positive diagnosis) like exercise programs and dieting that go with sustaining their life. There are some people who are HIV positive that outlive some people that don’t have it.”

Right Choice furthered the awareness push by teaming with Walgreens during the weekend of June 29 to perform free HIV testing.

That effort was a success, Jasmine said, because over 50 people were tested compared to the Tuesday average of 10.

Jasmine said HIV-testing locations in New Orleans are reporting to him the number of people from LaPlace testing positive at their locations is growing, while a local drug store also reported to Right Choice Project a strong influx of residents from LaPlace acquiring the medication needed to treat HIV.

“We’re trying to create prevention, whether it be safe sex or no sex,” Jasmine said. “If I had any gripe or concern, I would like to see more of an urgency from our government because the government can provide resources and awareness in their community.”

Jasmine said Right Choice Project would continue to provide a free, weekly local spot for residents to get tested and reach out to surrounding school districts to bring the message of HIV and AIDS awareness to the youth.

“A lot of those kids are contracting HIV and AIDS at 14 and 15 because they are having sex,” he said. “By the time they hit 21 or 22, they realize they have HIV and AIDS and are dying. If they are not aware they have it, they are going to die. That is factual. We’re making some progress, but not as much as we should.”