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November 18, 2003 

New Documentary Offers Intimate Look Inside the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Baltimore, Maryland

Personal Stories Illustrate Extent of Problem in Urban Baltimore

Rickeena Free has never known life with HIV/AIDS. She was just a baby when her mother found out she unknowingly transmitted the HIV virus to her daughter. Now 15, Rickeena faces the typical challenges of any teenager while also coping with her HIV infection. 

This is just one of the real-life stories powerfully portrayed in the new documentary HIV Positive Voices: An Inside Look at the AIDS Epidemic in Baltimore, Md., directed by award-winning filmmaker Charles Stuart and co-produced by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Communication Programs (CCP). Funded by a grant from the Mary Wohlford Foundation, the film was also produced by Stuart Productions. 

“This film is a reminder that while we have come a long way in fighting HIV/AIDS, we still have quite a way to go in preventing and treating this illness,” said Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. “We also have to better support those infected and not stigmatize or discriminate.”

Premiering on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, throughout Baltimore, HIV Positive Voices allows four city residents to tell their stories, including how they got infected and how HIV/AIDS impacts their lives. Their journeys are sometimes difficult. One segment focuses on Kimberly Smolen, who details a path of self-destruction that stemmed from her discovery that she was HIV-positive from a brief relationship in college. 

Baltimore is home to one of the highest AIDS rates in the nation, ranking third in reported AIDS cases per 100,000 population. It is estimated that someone becomes infected with HIV every eight hours in Baltimore. 

HIV Positive Voices shows what it is like to live positively with HIV in spite of the stigma, rigorous treatment regimen, and health problems. Rickeena and her mother visit schools to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention. Kimberly talks about the day she realized she wanted to live and how she turned her life around. 

The documentary also depicts the positive aspect of getting tested for HIV and getting treatment if positive. With the help of Hopkins’ CCP, the Maryland AIDS Administration has been promoting HIV testing for at-risk individuals for the past four years through the Red Ribbon Question Mark campaign. This campaign has thus far contributed to a 68 percent increase in testing in the three Baltimore zip codes with the highest rate of HIV infection and a 24 percent decline in new HIV cases. 

“With testing, an HIV-positive person can get the treatment and support they need,” said Liza Solomon, director of the Maryland AIDS Administration. “A positive diagnosis no longer means what it did in the early 1980s. There’s now treatment available for anyone who needs it in Maryland to help them live a healthy life.”

With representatives in more than 30 countries, Johns Hopkins' CCP is a pioneer in the field of strategic, research-based communication programs for behavior change and health promotion that have helped transform the theory and practice of public health communication. For more information about CCP, visit www.jhuccp.org.

View Trailer

Premiere Schedule and Locations

Note to Editors: The individuals profiled in HIV Positive Voices are available for interviews prior to World AIDS Day. Copies of the film are also available. For details of the citywide screening events on World AIDS Day or any other information, please contact Kim Martin at 410 659-6140 or visit www.hivpositivevoices.org.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.