World AIDS Day Highlights Good & Bad News
The theme of this years commemoration of World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero - Celebrating Life". Debbie Carty is the Area 1 HIV/AIDS Program Coordinator for the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County. She says "not only do we want to get to zero new infections and remember the people we've lost along the way, but we also want to celebrate those who are living happy, healthy lives with HIV."
December First has been designated World AIDS Day since 1988. Back then, being diagnosed as HIV positive was pretty much a death sentence. That is not the case today. "It's true, we do have a good system of care, even if you're uninsured. The drugs will keep you alive (but) they're expense (so) the best thing is not to get it. But if you do get it, there are ways to take care of yourself. See can keep your viral load low, undetectable." She also says keeping your viral load down makes you less infectious to others.
But Carty also says that care could be a double edged sword. There is speculation, and it’s just that…speculation, that since HIV/AIDS has become a treatable, chronic disease, people may be more lax when it comes to prevention. The infection statistics, at least locally, seem to bear that out. "Our HIV numbers (in Escambia county) are steadily increasing. Every month." Carty says over the same time period last year there has been a 13% increase in the number of HIV infections in the county.
Despite these numbers, HIV is extremely preventable. People should limit their number of sex partners and always use latex condoms. People should not inject drugs, but if getting clean is difficult, they should not share needles. And people at risk should be tested and treated for STDs every year and should know their partner’s status.
There will be events around the area to commemorate World AIDS Day including one at 511 Palafox in Pensacola from 6 to 8 p.m. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Barbara Wade, an HIV specialist physician who has been working with the Pensacola community since 1987 and the Medical Director at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. There will also be free HIV testing available at the event, as well as live music, talks from city officials and a presentation of an AIDS quilt from a local Girl Scout Troop.