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World AIDS Day "Can Save Your Life"

December 1, 2008

Lansing, MI - Today marks 20 years of annual "World AIDS Day" commemorations. This year, 18,000 people in Michigan are living with HIV, and more than half have been diagnosed with AIDS, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

The good news is, the estimated number of people who don't realize they are HIV-positive has been dropping. Still, the number of people getting tested has stalled, at 40 percent of the population.

Todd Heywood, of the Center for Independent Media, discovered last year he was HIV-positive. He sees today as a chance to educate everyone about using condoms, and the need to talk openly about HIV.

"Finding out that you are HIV positive can save your life. If your doctor is not saying 'Hey, let's get a test for HIV,' you need to stand up and say, 'Hey, I want to get tested for HIV.'"

More people ages 13 to 24 are being diagnosed with HIV. A further breakdown reveals that 59 percent of those infected are African-American, 35 percent are White and 4 percent Hispanic - and overall, 70 percent are men. The state plans a study next year that will focus on the high-risk African-American community. In the meantime, says Heywood, everyone should know their status.

"The medications are getting better every year, and this is becoming a manageable disease - but it's manageable because you monitor it and pay attention to it, and you don't ignore the fact you have this virus."

Many people with HIV have the misconception that AIDS can be cured with medication, he adds.

"There's sort-of a backlash from the prohibiters and 'cocktails' that have been made available, that it has made the perception of the disease less dangerous. And yet, people are still dying from it."

For more information on HIV/AIDS and World AIDS Day, look online at Michigan also has an AIDS hotline, at 1-800-872-2427.

Tony Bruscato, Public News Service - MI