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Getting to Zero: Progress and Challenges on World AIDS Day

More than 10,000 people in Connecticut are living with HIV. Credit: geralt/pixabay.com
More than 10,000 people in Connecticut are living with HIV. Credit: geralt/pixabay.com
December 1, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. - The 27th annual World AIDS Day is being commemorated today with testimonials, vigils, education and free testing around Connecticut.

"Getting to Zero" is the goal in the ongoing efforts to end the global pandemic of AIDS. More than 10,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Connecticut, and as many as one in five may not know they're infected.

Aurelio Lopez, service coordinator at the Connections Wellness Center in Hartford, said fear is one of the greatest obstacles to overcoming HIV.

"Stigma is still killing us, way more than this epidemic ever will," he said. "The fear of other people finding out that you're HIV-positive is more intense than trying to deal with medication."

Once considered a death sentence, with treatment HIV has become a manageable, chronic infection. Free, anonymous testing is available at many sites around the state.

According to Lopez, Connecticut has been doing a pretty good job of stemming the spread of HIV.

"We're finding somewhere in the neighborhood of 300, 350 every year," he said. "Connecticut is one of the top states in the union not only identifying people that are HIV-positive but also getting them into care."

He said the state has been identifying areas where HIV is most prevalent, and redirecting resources to those locations to achieve the maximum effect.

Advances, such as the introduction of drugs that can keep uninfected people free of the virus, are helping. But HIV still has a disproportionate impact on people of color and low-income communities. Lopez said he believes the best way to "get to zero" is to communicate.

"If we don't come out of the closet and start talking a little bit more about this," he said, "this has a really good shot at returning, and becoming a huge issue that's out of control again."

The national theme for World AIDS Day 2015 is, "The Time to Act is Now."

A list of testing sites is online at hivtest.org. World AIDS Day Events in Connecticut are listed at aids-ct.org/wad.html.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT