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Today, June 5, is the 20th anniversary of the first case of AIDS being reported in the United States. Since then, 21 million people worldwide, and almost 900,000 in the United States are believed to be infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Here in Juneau, for every one person diagnosed with AIDS, there are believed to be four that are HIV positive. That would mean there are over 60 people that may know or not that they are infected in our community today.
Twenty years of this epidemic has taught us a lot. While we still do not have a cure for AIDS nor do we have a vaccine to prevent new infections, we know what works in terms of prevention. We have also made great strides in developing new medications and treatment that have helped untold thousands live healthier, more productive lives.
We have also learned that not talking about AIDS can lead to people being afraid to be tested for HIV, and that it can lead to people not going in for care and medical treatment. We now see that racial and ethnic minorities, women and young people are being hardest hit by this disease, and in particular young, gay, minority males. AIDS has always been a disease of people, of those we love and care about. It is about their unfulfilled promise, and loss of their potential.
As we mark the anniversary of AIDS, I urge you to take time out of your busy day to speak with someone you love about AIDS. And if you have questions, call me at Shanti. As importantly, if you have or think you might have ever put yourself at risk for HIV infection, you should seriously consider being tested for HIV. If you know someone who may have placed themselves at risk, urge them to be tested and go with them.
It is only through individual action that this global crisis will be solved. Be part of this effort. For the life you save may well be someone you love, including your own.
Eileen Wilson is a risk reduction specialist and Jesuit volunteer at Shanti of Southeast Alaska.