World AIDS Day was recognized Sunday and was a day of remembrance to those who lost a battle to the disease and awareness of prevention.
With an estimated 35 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS and 1.1 million people in the United States, World AIDS Day is a reminder that the global fight against the disease continues.
People across the U.S. could participate in the day with social media through Facing AIDS, a photo sharing initiative to reduce stigma and promote testing of HIV.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and AIDS.gov, Facing AIDS has been hosted since 2008 and the strategy of the program is to help Americans learn about what they can do to help those affected by the disease and what to do if they have it.
According to facing.aids.gov, “The stigma associated with HIV remains extremely high and fear of discrimination causes some Americans to avoid learning their HIV status, disclosing their status or accessing medical care.”
This year’s World AIDS Day marked the 25th annual observance of the day and allowed for many to reflect on the changes that have been made since the establishment of the day.
U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement about World AIDS Day and the progress the world has made on fighting the disease.
“When the World Health Organization established the first World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, 1988, treatment options for people living with HIV were practically nonexistent, and AIDS was almost invariably fatal,” Sebelius said. “Hope was in short supply, and there seemed to be little reason for optimism. I am grateful that the world is a very different place for the 25th annual World AIDS Day.”
Testing and counseling centers are now located all over the United States, including locally in Murray.
The Calloway County Health Department offers free, confidential and anonymous oral and blood HIV testing and counseling to students and community members in the area.
The health department also tests for gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes and syphilis. Women who get pap smears can also be tested for HPV. The services, which are all confidential, may come with a service charge but will not be refused due to a patient’s inability to pay.
Linda Cavitt, the public health director for the health department, said there is confidential counseling available to those who test positive for HIV/AIDS and the best way to be sure to avoid contracting diseases is to abstain from sex.
“The only sure way is to be abstinent,” Cavitt said. “But if you’re not going to be abstinent, know your partner and use condoms.”
Cavitt said the health department keeps condoms available to those who may need them, and are kept in brown bags for confidentiality. Names and other information are not required to receive the condoms and are there to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Murray State’s Health Services also offers testing for sexually transmitted diseases to students.
While the day continues to bring national awareness to AIDS, senior D. Andrew Porter from Scottsdale, Ky., said he believes there can be more done to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS, especially through teaching others about the disease itself.
“I think it’s important for us to talk about HIV/AIDS,” Porter said. “People are so misinformed about the realities of the virus and education is the only way we will ever end the negative stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS a
nd make a world without the spread of disease a possibility.”
Story by Mary Bradley, Staff writer