This Saturday marks the 30th annual World Aids Day since it was first declared in 1988 by the World Health Organization. Three decades later, the alarm of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has faded thanks to modern medicine.
Debbie Carty is the HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator for the Florida Health Department in Escambia County. She says being HIV Positive today looks nothing like it did 30 years ago.
“If you were diagnosed with HIV, unfortunately, that was a death sentence,” she said. “And now, you’re able to live a long healthy life.”
The AIDS crisis peaked during the 80s and 90s. Between 1988 and 1995, 78 percent of those diagnosed died of AIDS-related causes. Kurt Goodman works as the Director of Prevention at Oasis in Escambia County, an AIDS services organization. While he currently helps fight HIV in the community, Goodman faced his own struggle with AIDS. In 1990, Goodman’s doctor told him he had tested HIV positive. At that moment, he didn’t know how much longer he would have to live.
“It’s just mind and body numbing, the minute they tell you something like that, you really just kind of shut down you don’t really hear anything else," he said.
After receiving his diagnosis, Goodman had to navigate relationships as HIV positive. Not only did he have to decide when to tell his family and friends, but he also had to be honest with romantic partners, despite fear of rejection.
“I was single at the time so when you have to tell a sexual partner that you’re HIV positive that’s extremely frightening because you’re going to get rejected a lot of times, particularly in the 90s and into the early 2000s,” Goodman said. “You were just almost automatically rejected."
In addition to his own battle with HIV, Goodman volunteered for an AIDS outreach organization in Columbia Missouri during the 90s. He visited homes and cooked meals, sometimes taking people to their doctor’s visits. He became close with the people he helped but saw many of them die.
“The first person that passed away was him and his partner and they died within hours of each other so things like that kind of stay with you and unfortunately there’s been so many in between that it kind of all runs together.”
Today, things are different. Carty says anyone who is HIV positive can live a long life with the right treatment plan, but only if they get tested and taken care of in time. Many people live with HIV until they get so sick they end up in the hospital and die from AIDS, which is completely preventable if someone is tested before symptoms start to show.
Some of the newer treatment options include a daily pill that can prevent a person from contracting HIV at all. It’s called PrEP. Carty recommends anyone who has a high likelihood of contracting HIV can use it to protect themselves from the disease.