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World AIDS Day: AZ "Denial" Singled Out

December 1, 2008

Tucson, AZ – World AIDS Day 2008 finds great progress in awareness and treatment for HIV and AIDS. Because of major advances in treatment the past 20 years, AIDS is no longer considered a terminal illness. But activists say progress is tempered by the continuing lack of prevention efforts outside the gay and lesbian community.

Dave Martinez, prevention program manager for the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation, says the old stereotype of HIV being a "gay" disease persists, and that hurts education and prevention.

"It can happen to anybody. People are aware of it, but I think the problem that we're dealing with right now in prevention is that people don't think it can happen to them."

Martinez mentions research that has proven ways to halt HIV/AIDS.

"Use condoms or abstinence. And, if you decide to have sex, get tested regularly. If you're gonna inject drugs, don't share your needles. Go to a local needle exchange to get clean needles to stop the spread of the infection."

Treatment for H-I-V/AIDS is widely available in Arizona, regardless of income or health insurance.

Ari Kelly, director of education and community relations for the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, says it's estimated that one-fourth of people who are HIV-positive don’t even know they're infected. Kelly says most Americans haven't gotten the message about early detection.

"If you look at the number of people being tested, no, because the CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested, and that's not happening."

60,000 new HIV cases are reported each year in the U.S. About half are linked to high-risk heterosexual contact and drug use.

World AIDS Day is being marked with events in several Arizona cities today. A major AIDS Day event in Tucson begins at 4:00 p.m. today at Club Congress. A listing of Phoenix and Coolidge events is at www.swhiv.org/about/news_media/articles/20081118.php. A Prescott event will be held at Embry-Riddle, time to be announced. Flagstaff will hold a 6:30 p.m. memorial service at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ