Fighting HIV/AIDS, One Hairstyle At A Time

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[On Health Matters]

“So what’ll it be today? Wash and set, touch up or blow out?”
 “How are the kids? And that handsome man of yours?”
“Hey, when did you last get tested for HIV?!”

Typical beauty shop conversation, right? Well, if the organizers behind the global advocacy program, Hairdressers Against AIDS (HAA), have their way, the latter will flow through more salons than shampoo bottles.

On Thursday, December 1, 2011, when individuals and groups all over the globe gathered to spread awareness and remember loved ones lost, in honor of World AIDS Day, Hairdressers Against AIDS kicked off its second year in the U.S. by holding a press conference at a local Harlem salon to highlight the program’s mission and success in its inaugural year and also to encourage haircare professionals across the nation to strengthen the movement by joining the conversation.

The mandate behind the The L'Oréal Fondation D'Enterprise-sponsored program is simple: equip and empower hair care professionals with the resources and information needed to confidently share with their clientele the devastating rates of HIV/AIDS in their communities and encourage them to get tested and know their status.

Since its inception in 2010, Hairdressers Against AIDS has provided in-depth training to thousands of salon professionals at special L'Oréal educational sessions and through key partnerships within the industry, such as the Redken Symposiums and America's Beauty Shows. The group is casting a wide net to reach a vast array of individuals, and with more than 500,000 hairdressers in the L'Oréal network alone, who see up to 20 million clients weekly, HAA has a unique opportunity to reach over 110 million Americans each year through open, sincere and trustworthy dialogue.

It is no surprise that HAA held this year’s event in Harlem, as 2009 NYC Department of Health statistics show the Manhattan area as having the second highest rate of new HIV diagnosis, at 26.4%. Worse, the rates are disproportionately high in minority areas, with African-Americans accounting for 48% of all new diagnosis in New York City. Clearly, and it will take unorthodox and innovative approaches, such as those demonstrated by HAA to decrease the decrease the infection rate and close the gap.

New York City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, spoke on the unique advantage salon professionals have in delivering HIV prevention messages to clients when she stated that, most men and women “see their barbers and stylists more than they see their doctor…They’ve put their beauty in [our] hands, [thus making it an opportune time] to engage people in places where they feel most comfortable.” She referred to the program as a “cutting edge,” (all pun intended) initiative, and indeed it is.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who represents District 9 in Harlem, reiterated how rampant the disease has spread throughout the neighborhood and supported the HAA efforts, agreeing that it is “through education that [the City] will be able to stomp out this plague.”

Celebrity Stylist, Kimmi Hendrix provided personal testimony of how she personally has felt the sting of the deadly disease through the loss of two beloved clients and friends. As a result, she does not shy away from spreading awareness to her clients and offering helpful hints to hairdressers on how to get the dialogue started.

Stating the well-known fact that salon professionals play the dual role of “beauty therapists,” she has found that sharing information about her own health, talking facts, and showing genuine care for clients’ well-being, helps ease the would-be “touchy” conversation along rather smoothly.

Other speakers on hand included, New York State Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, SVP of Worldwide Education at Redken and Pureology, and the Chair of Hairdressers Against AIDS USA Christine Schuster, Director of Education at MIZANI Veronique Morrison, National Black Leadership Initiative on AIDS's Leatrice Wactor, and AIDS Activist Maria Davis.

Clients, hurry now to schedule your next appointment, and you can be sure of two things: Not only will you get a show-stopping hairstyle, but you may also receive some live-saving advice. Don’t fret. It’s all in the name of the HAA mantra of using their voice and power for a “beautiful world without AIDS.”

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