Peoria, Ill. (WEEK) – Sunday is recognized as World AIDS Day to raise public awareness about the disease. This year’s them is Ending the HIV Epidemic: Community by Community. That is why Central Illinois Friends, Delta Sigma Theta and Positive Health Solutions hosted an event at the Carver Center on Saturday.
HIV has claimed more than 32 million lives, according to the World Health Organization. The key groups impacted by the disease include men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, individuals in prisons, sex works and transgender people.
“I think there’s still a lot of stigma in regards to being HIV positive or having behaviors that are associated with being exposed to HIV,” said Dr. David Slagle, University of Illinois College of Medicine.
Slagle says a lot has changed since the early 1980’s in terms of treatment for AIDS, but there is still a long road ahead for patients.
“We don’t have a cure and we don’t have a vaccine. You still have to take medication on a daily basis to control HIV infection,” Slagle said.
The Illinois Public Health Association has a HIV care and connect website that was originally created for doctors trying to link patients to the best care.
“But it’s also become now a social point for people living with HIV where they can reach out for housing services, mental health or substance abuse,” said Illinois Public Health Association HIV Project Manager Michael Maginn.
Maginn says patients appreciate the opportunity to talk with someone who relates to their personal experiences. He says events like these can help people open up and feel welcomed in their community.
“More than anything, it’s keeping that conversation alive to make sure that this doesn’t happen to us again,” said Central Illinois Friends Executive Director Deric Kimler. “That we don’t allow negative stigma or stigma as a whole to get in the way of us taking care of our own.”
Kimler says the stigma surrounding HIV kills more people than actual medications, side effects and the disease itself.
“Having an educational forum where we can move past the stigma that is deep-rooted in our society, that’s how you do it. That’s how we beat this. Communication, education, love and togetherness. That’s the only way you can beat it,” Kimler said.
You can participate in World AIDS Day by lighting a candle Sunday to remember those we have lost and celebrate those who stand alongside us. Take a picture and use the #CIWAD19, which stands for Central Illinois World AIDS Day. You could see your photo in our newscasts tomorrow night.