HIV infection is no longer a death sentence; it has become treatable and controllable.
About 1,000 people are estimated to be living with HIV in Lucas County, according to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, but many are not aware of their diagnosis.
Trained volunteers, educators and health-care professionals will offer free, confidential HIV testing from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Westfield Franklin Park Mall food court. More than 100 people were tested for World AIDS Day 2011 at the local event.
No appointments are necessary for the 20-minute test, which requires a mouth swab. Educational material about HIV prevention also will be handed out.
Dr. Joan Duggan, professor and director of the Ryan White HIV Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center, encourages everyone to get an HIV test.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those ages 13 to 64 should receive at least one baseline HIV test.
Duggan believes that fear of stigma, prejudice or lack of basic information about HIV prevent people from being tested.
“Stigma, to a large extent, is still alive and well, but it is much more underground than it used to be,” Duggan said. “We have a hard time today imagining the stigma that was present years ago since a much more pervasive and subtle one exists today.”
There have been an estimated 30 million deaths worldwide since HIV/AIDS was first identified in 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With medications and care, HIV is no longer a fatal illness, but a treatable medical condition with a near normal life expectancy. But in order to receive proper medical care, people need to be tested and treated as early as possible. The goal of World AIDS Day is to educate and test as many people as possible.
“Ideally, we like people diagnosed early,” Duggan said. “If the results are positive, we can get them into treatment, preserve immune system function, and decrease the risk of transmission. With an early diagnosis before people develop symptoms, we can prevent the progression to AIDS and stop immune system damage.”
The theme for World AIDS Day 2012 is “Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation.” It is a global health day that commemorates those who have died and renews the commitment to fighting and ending HIV worldwide.
The local World AIDS Day testing event is sponsored by the UT Medical Center Ryan White Center, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, the AIDS Resource Center of Northwest Ohio, Substance Abuse Services Inc. and Nuestra Gente Community Projects Inc.