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Georgians Commemorate World AIDS Day

by Steven  Skelley
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 2, 2011

It all began in June 1981.

Five healthy, gay men in Los Angeles were diagnosed with a rare lung infection and a puzzling attack on their immune systems. As soon as the Centers for Disease Control reported this disturbing news in a surveillance report, physicians across the country began reporting similar cases. And, by the end of the year, 121 people had died.

Thirty years later, those who either have lost their battle with or have been affected by what became known as AIDS have grown to unimaginable numbers. More than 25 million people around the world have died from the virus, while more than 30 million live with HIV. In the United States, 1.2 million Americans live with HIV, while more than 600,000 people have lost their battle to the virus.

More than 56,000 Americans become infected each year, while more than 17,000 people in the United States die from AIDS each year. Twenty percent of those with HIV are unaware of their status, while AIDS has become the leading cause of death for young African American women.

For more than two decades, World AIDS Day events have been held around the world to raise global awareness to the fight against HIV/AIDS, to highlight strategies that effectively reduce new infections, to promote additional research, prevention strategies and access to medical treatment and to reduce AIDS-related deaths in the United States and around the world.

Multiple World AIDS Day events took place across Georgia on Thursday, Dec. 1.

The Museum of Design Atlanta held a film screening of "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt." Action Cycling held a 30-mile fundraising ride, while Positive Impact hosted a fine art fundraiser. The city of Atlanta hosted a commemoration at City Hall. Savannah, Athens and other cities across the state also offered free HIV testing.

With more than 40,000 people with HIV, Georgia has the sixth highest prevalence rate in the country as the CDC notes. Sixty-six percent of people with HIV in the Peach Tree State are African American, compared with 29 percent who are white. Three percent of the state's HIV cases are among Latinos.

The Georgia Department of Community Health reports that the highest number of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases is among people whose ages are between 30-49. Seventy-nine percent of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases among women and 45 percent among men were identified as having no reported or identified risk factors.

"As long as the AIDS virus threatens the health and lives of people in the U.S. and around the world, our work needs to continue to connect people to treatment, educate them about how to protect themselves, battle stigma and discrimination, and to have all of us collectively fighting against this pandemic," said Cathalene Teahan of the Georgia AIDS Coalition.

Daniel C. Montoya, deputy executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, tested positive more than 20 years ago. He believes that the fight against HIV/AIDS is a battle that can be won.

"Our movement, which started in response to an epidemic that no one else seemed willing or able to address, has grown to include a world-wide network of organizations, activists, care providers, businesses and government agencies, all working toward the common goal of eradicating HIV," he said. "Today, Republicans and Democrats alike, recognize the importance of addressing this public health crisis, placing humanity above politics. And while together, we have accomplished much, there remains significant work to be done."

Steven Skelley is a published author of several nonfiction works and the novella The Gargoyle Scrolls. He has been a newspaper columnist, travel writer, news writer, music director, creative arts director, theater reviewer and tennis instructor.


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