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In honor of World AIDS Day

December 1 will mark the 24th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a day of observation established in 1988 to honor the victims of AIDS and to raise awareness about this serious public health issue.

December 1 will mark the 24th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a day of observation established in 1988 to honor the victims of AIDS and to raise awareness about this serious public health issue.  World AIDS Day events are held throughout the world in order to provide the public with an opportunity to present a united front and a fighting spirit in in eliminating HIV.

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same in the fight against HIV and AIDS, even since I wrote on this topic for last year’s event.  Rates of new HIV diagnosis continue to remain steady in Salt Lake County, and at times appear to be increasing.  HIV has made a resurgence in the minds of public health officials, all of whom would like to see public health efforts eliminate this disease.  It has become clear to everyone that HIV is a preventable disease.  Eliminating HIV and promoting gay men’s health have become priority goals for Healthy People 2020 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is also renewed hope that we may find a cure for HIV in the near future, or, if not a cure, a vaccine. We continue to spend millions of dollars each year in research.  HIV medications continue to improve; the side effects are much better now than for HIV patients diagnosed early on in the epidemic.  We have developed new strategies for preventing transmission of HIV in our high-risk populations that come in the form of presumptive HIV medications for men who are HIV negative and have an HIV-positive sexual partner.  Two of the strategies are ensuring that all positive patients enroll and stay in HIV-related health care and are minimizing patients viral loads with medications; the theory is that if a patient’s viral load is lower, they have a statistically lower risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. Both of these strategies are incredibly controversial and expensive, but indicate a shift in the prevention paradigm set forth by public health.

In some ways, I find that attitudes have shifted in the past year particularly within the gay community. There continues to be fear about HIV within the community, but the fear has shifted.  Many men don’t seem to fear getting HIV as much as they fear being found out that they are positive. Many fear being rejected by their families or employers.  Many are convinced that no one will date them or love them if it’s discovered they are HIV positive.

The message here is that we still need to be vigilant and united in the fight against AIDS.  More than ever, we need events such as on World AIDS Day to remind us that this epidemic still exists, and to let us know that although so much has changed, we still have to fight.  In honor of the day, the Salt Lake Valley Health Department will be hosting a week of public events around HIV at the downtown City Library.  The theme of this year’s event is World AIDS Day: HIV Still Among Us. Beginning Monday, Nov. 26, the library will display personal stories of those whose lives have been impacted by HIV.  A portion of the AIDS quilt will also be displayed.  On Saturday Dec. 1, there will be a viewing of the movie, The Announcement at the City Library, 10 a.m.  The film is a documentary on the life of Magic Johnson and his journey as an HIV-positive athlete and public figure.  The Salt Lake Men’s choir will also be performing at the library on Dec. 1 at 1 p.m.  The Tower Theatre will hold a second showing of the The Announcement on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 7 p.m.

This epidemic needs support and awareness.  Please join the Salt Lake Valley Health Department in celebrating World AIDS Day 2012.  To find out more about our events, contact Monique Melnychuk at 385-468-4191 or email  mmelnychuk@slco.org.

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Lynn Beltran

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