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Jamaica churches battle AIDS with needle exchange

The religious group asked two of its members, Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church at 179-09 Jamaica Ave. and the Evangelical Christian Church at Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and 109th Avenue to host the exchanges.While there was some community concern about the placement of the programs, Rev. Charles Norris of Bethesda Missionary said his congregation did not have a problem with it."We don't condemn drug addicts," he said Monday. "They have a problem."The programs are open every Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Staffers will offer condoms, information on abstinence and HIV/AIDS testing, Norris said. He said the workers would only discuss religion or offer church pamphlets if first asked.The exchanges, which were approved by the area's Community Board 12 in October and then by the state Health Department, come in response to the high level of HIV/AIDS infections in southeast Queens. There are more than 1,700 people living with HIV in Jamaica and 201 residents were diagnosed with the disease in 2002, according to statistics from the city Health Department. The department's numbers also show that one in five intravenous drug users in Queens are HIV positive or infected with AIDS.A third program authorized by Community Board 12 and run by Queens Hospital Center at the Charles Drew Center on Archer Avenue and Merrick Boulevard has not yet opened. Its status could not be determined.-Michael Morton

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