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Minnesotans Need a Refresher About AIDS to Stop the Spread of the Disease

November 30, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - As Minnesota gears up to commemorate World AIDS Day, those in the state who track the disease hope increased education and awareness can help turn around a troubling trend. AIDS-oriented events begin Tuesday and will continue throughout December.

The added attention to the disease is welcomed by people in Minnesota who say the public is becoming complacent. That's one of the reasons they cite for a 24-percent increase in Minnesota AIDS infections in the first part of 2009 - a trend that appears to be continuing.

Brigid Riley, director of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting, says an increasing number of obstacles prevent the public from becoming fully aware of AIDS.

"Issue fatigue, certainly, is one reason, and then how do you reach new populations? There's a layer of homophobia on top of that. And something is out there saying you can live with AIDS now by managing the disease with a number of drugs."

Research shows the infection increase is higher for young men between the ages of 18 and 24. If the current trend continues, this year will mark the highest number of new AIDS diagnoses since 1992, Riley says.

Roger Ernst, public outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Rural AIDS Action Network, says there's plenty to celebrate this year compared to the recent history of the disease, including more services for patients than ever before, longer, more productive lives for people with the disease. However, the higher incidence of infection suggests some people are either not getting the message or they choose to ignore it, he warns.

"I think we've raised a generation of people who have come into their maturity and just aren't aware of the risks. Sex education in general has become a controversial topic in our school systems, and I don't believe young students are receiving the same degree of education they have in the past."

Ernst says the Rural AIDS Action Network is sponsoring a handful of vigils and other events around the state for World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. Other groups are organizing informational forums, testing sites and public outreach activities throughout the month.

Art Hughes, Public News Service - MN