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Michael J. Feeney, NYDailyNews: Dionne Warwick’s AIDS plea: Wants ex-President Clinton to help fight HIV in local neighborhoods

Dionne Warwick’s AIDS plea: Wants ex-President Clinton to help fight HIV in local neighborhoods
by Michael J. Feeney, Sep-tember 29, 2011

Singer Dionne Warwick has issued a challenge to former President Bill Clinton: Do more to fight AIDS in local neighborhoods like Harlem rather than abroad.

Warwick led a moving community discussion and panel Monday night where she appealed to Clinton, who still has an office on W. 125th St.

“He has done an enormous amount of work outside of the country…I will confront President Clinton and ask why?” Warwick said at the Oberia D. Dempsey Center on W. 127th St. “Do it right here.”

In Central and East Harlem, the rate of HIV diagnoses and people living with HIV/AIDS is more than twice the rate in New York City, according to the Center for Disease Control.

One out of every 38 residents in East and Central Harlem is HIV positive, compared to just over 1 out of 100 citywide, statistics show.

“It’s as dire [in the U.S.] as it is anywhere else,” Warwick told the Daily News of the deadly disease. “[Clinton] can look out of his [Harlem] office window…I want to get an appointment with him…I also want him to make it clear that he is concerned about his next-door neighbor.”

A request for comment from Clinton was not returned. The former president started the Clinton Health Access Initiative in 2002, which is a global organization focused on expanding access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

The initiative has taken Clinton to African countries including MalawiTanzania and South Africa.

Warwick began her crusade against HIV/AIDS after her valet died of the illness before much was known about the disease. Warwick, the self-proclaimed first celebrity HIV/AIDS activist, also saw the disease “ravage” many in the entertainment business.

“I was the one that everybody called crazy,” she said, remembering her early involvement with HIV/AIDS.

Other panelists included actress Sheryl Lee Ralph; former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and Rae Lewis-Thornton, who was first diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and now has full-blown AIDS.

“There is some complacency out there. We should not be relaxed,” said L. Jeannine Bookhardt-Murray, HIV specialist and chief medical officer at Harlem United, who was also on the panel.

“HIV has not gone away…I’m sick of seeing people die. It does not need to happen. Not under our watch.”

Ralph, also a long-time activist who has her own HIV/AIDS organization called DIVA, expressed concern about the lack of conversation about the disease.

“At some point, we have got to break this silence,” she said to the half-full auditorium. “Mothers, take your daughters to get tested; fathers, take your sons to get tested.”

“When you have the rate of infection in Harlem that rivals sub-Saharan Africa,” said Ralph said, “this is the right place and we need to do more.”

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