Dr. David M. Carlisle, President of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
Assistant Professor and Director, HIV Mobile Outreach Project
While Charles Drew University (CDU) may not be known for their palate tempting offerings, don’t think for a second they’re not at home at the Taste of Soul. Since the event’s inception CDU has participated in LA’s largest street festival taking care of more than eager appetites. “Los Angeles has a rich and important African-American history. It’s a city characterized by its cultural, racial and ethnic diversity; and the Taste of Soul is a real demonstration of that and pays homage to that legacy,” said Dr. David M. Carlisle, president Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. “CDU is part of that legacy and history as well. We want to join the 300,000 attendees that are going to be there to celebrate that legacy, the history and the institutions that have been a part of it. We’ve been happy to be a sponsor and we’re looking forward to being active participants at this year’s event.”
When speaking about CDU “active” is most definitely an understatement. For more than 20 years, they have been one of the leaders in HIV/AIDS education and prevention in Los Angeles. At the helm of the university’s HIV/AIDS education and prevention outreach is Assistant Professor and Director, HIV Mobile Outreach Project, Cynthia C. Davis. “The CDU Mobile Testing Van was the first dedicated HIV testing van that was funded by LA County Health Dept back in 1991. We were a pilot demonstration program to provide outreach to under-resourced and underserved communities throughout South LA as well as Skid Row and East LA,” Davis stated.
“The program was so successful that the county health department decided to replicate the program and in the second year of operation they made available six additional mobile vans and we got one of those vans. Over a 10 year period, we were the sole source of approximately $500,000 a year to operate two mobile van programs; one to target South LA, one to target all of LA County where we provided free HIV screening services to at risk populations; and when we identified people who were HIV positive we referred them for medical care and treatment.”
In light of recent HIV/AIDS statistics in Los Angeles there’s little doubt that CDU’s participation at the Taste of Soul is a natural and necessary partnership. According to Davis, recent LA County Health Department estimates indicate that there are approximately 62,000 people living with HIV and or AIDS in Los Angeles county. Out of that number there are about 13,500 (22%) that are HIV positive and don’t know their status. They believe that of those individuals 75% are responsible for all new cases being reporting in LA annually. “Those are the people county wide that we are targeting to identify them and determine their status and if they are positive get them into care and treatment,” explained Davis. “On an annual basis we have a little over 2,000 newly diagnosed cases being reported to the health department and we’re trying to get those numbers down. The only way we can do that is to go out into the community, and provide these services and identify these individuals.”
This year, CDU’s mobile testing van will provide the 20 minute OraQuick HIV Rapid test, where you can get your results in 20 mins and another agency will provide the new FDA approved Insta test, which is a 60 second finger test where test results are available in 60 seconds. “We’re hoping this encourages more people to come out and get tested,” claims Davis. If rapid results won’t do the trick, perhaps patrons may be lured to check their status with cold hard cash. “Last year we had a money machine, where people could go into the machine and grab dollar bills if they took an HIV test. The money machine will be back again this year and we have gift cards.”
As if that’s not enough, for the first time CDU will extend its participation in the Taste of Soul, to include a Farmer’s Market. “In the last year through our College of Science and Health, we’ve gotten funding from the Department of Agriculture to implement a Farmers Market in South LA,” Davis said with enthusiasm. “It’s a collaborative between CDU, Crenshaw Christian Center and Heritage Education Group. We started a Farmers Market in February of this year on 79th and Vermont in the parking of Crenshaw Christian Center.” The market is open every Friday from 10am-2pm and every second Sunday from 10am-2pm.
Through an exclusive arrangement, the Farmer’s Market will be the only Farmer’s Market at the Taste of Soul. “We’re going to promote the Farmers Market and have up to 14 vendors there who are at our Farmer’s Market on a weekly basis. I’m very excited about that, with the large number of community members at the Taste of Soul it’ll be a great way to get the word out about the Farmer’s Market and people can come over and access fresh fruits and vegetables,” Davis exclaimed.
“We want people to know CDU is alive and growing, is strong and getting stronger,” Dr. Carlisle insisted. “We are looking forward to training more health professionals to serve LA—especially the under-resourced and underserved communities that are here. We’re here to serve. And that is the most important value we can speak of at the university, service.” Through its deep and committed sponsorship of the Taste of Soul, CDU is one step closer to realizing its vision, “excellent health and wellness for all persons, people and communities and a world without health disparities.”