The Kentucky Department for Public Health is working to promote World AIDS Day on December 1 and unite people across the commonwealth in the fight against HIV.
The theme for this year’s observance is “Getting to Zero” with a push to get to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths. Despite increased understanding of HIV and AIDS, state officials say the annual event is still needed as a reminder that the disease still impacts millions of people worldwide.
Kentucky Department for Public Health spokeswoman Beth Fisher says there is a vital need to improve education and for people to get tested.
“It’s still very important to increase awareness and to let people know HIV — while infection rates have decreased over the years — it’s a still very serious public health concern. We want people to be aware, to know their risk and to get tested because it hasn’t gone away and people still need to know their status,” she says.
World AIDS Day was started in 1987 as an opportunity for people to show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate those who have died from the disease.
According to national health statistics, more than 1 million adults and adolescents are living with HIV in the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control estimating someone gets infected every 9.5 minutes.
In Kentucky, the most recent data shows an estimated AIDS diagnosis rate of 6.9 per 100,000 people, which ranks the commonwealth 26th in nation. In 2009, Louisville had a rate of 18.1 per 100,000 population.
But the numbers are staggering for minorities, with the overall AIDS diagnosis rate among African-Americans increasing by 55 percent from 2005 to 2008.
Since 2006 the AIDS rate has increased among black males in Kentucky by 54 percent and among black females by 60 percent, which state officials say they are targeting with specific outreach.
And although significant progress has been made in providing access to HIV/AIDS services and medicine, there are still a number of infected people in need of anti-retroviral therapy and other treatments do not have access to it.
In 2009, up to 33 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were aware of their status, but not receiving regular primary health care.
“There are services through the public health department and local health departments such as free testing people and other services to help people need find drug assistance programs and therapy for HIV/AIDS,” says Fisher.
Officials are advising about the locations where HIV testing is offered such as AIDS Volunteers Inc.; the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department in Lexington; Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness and Volunteers of America in Louisville; and Matthew 25 AIDS Services in Henderson.
The department wants the public to know the following events will take place Thursday in honor of World AIDS Day:
− Free condoms and red ribbons will be given out from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the UK Student Center Starbucks in Lexington.
− HIV/AIDS panel discussion at 5 p.m. today at the UK Student Center Theater in Lexington.
− Free rapid (oral) HIV testing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 30 at the UK Commons, rooms 306A and 308A and B in Lexington.
− Town Hall Symposium and Neighborhood Testing Event from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 1 at the NIA Center in Louisville.
− Free HIV testing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
− Free HIV testing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Salvation Army in Hopkinsville.
− Free ribbons and information at noon Dec. 1 at the St. Paul AME Church in Lexington.
− Free rapid (oral) HIV testing from 3 to 5 p.m. at the UK Student Center, rooms 359 and 363 in Lexington.
− Community Commemoration of World AIDS Days from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville.
− Free HIV testing from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Housing Authority in Bowling Green.
− Free ribbons and information at noon Dec. 4 at the St. Paul AME Church in Lexington.
− Rap session and free HIV testing at noon Dec. 10 at the St. Paul AME Church in Lexington.