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Local News

Getting To Zero: Locals Observe World AIDS Day

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  December 1 marks the annual observance of World AIDS Day. Locally, World AIDS Day ceremonies are being held in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach.

The Pensacola World AIDS Day event takes place at 6 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza, downtown. The program features a keynote speech by Dr. Susan Walch from the University of West Florida Psychology Department. Afterward, there will be a candlelight walk to Sole’ Inn on Palafox Street, where AIDS Memorial Quilts will be on display. Also, on-site HIV testing will be available.

The Fort Walton Beach observance, presented by Okaloosa AIDS Support & Informational Services or OASIS, begins at 6:30 p.m. at Saint Simons On The Sound Episcopal Church. It will include a Community Dinner, followed by a film screening of the award-winning documentary “Deepsouth.”

HIV Evolution Director Patrick Rogers is on a World AIDS Day committee that planned the Pensacola ceremony.

“In the early World AIDS Day events, it was about gathering together and remembering and honoring the people in our lives who have died,” said Roger, noting that that’s still a major component of the observance because people are still dying from the disease. But, he adds “It’s also about praying for and talking about the sense of hope we see in the world.”

According to Rogers, medication is more available and effective these days, adding that someone who’s diagnosed can get into care and find that HIV is a manageable disease. People can live normal life spans by taking one pill a day, with little or no side effects and undetectable levels.

The most important thing is ‘knowing your status’ in order to get into care. “That’s the big struggle. It’s really not as much today about managing the care as it is the issue surrounding stigma, which prevents people from getting tested and discovering their status and getting into care. So, that’s what our concentration here is on,” Rogers said.

Over the years barriers to testing have been removed by making testing methods simpler and testing supplies easier to access. Today, testing kits are even available over the counter, but Rogers said their preference is that individuals come to their offices for testing, where counseling is available.

When it comes to the focus of this year’s World AIDS Day, local organizers have chosen “Getting to Zero.” The state of Florida came up with that theme and has taken the initiative of “Getting to Zero” through 2015 in support of the goal to decrease the number of new infections through prevention and education.