“World AIDS Day is just a time to draw attention to HIV and AIDS and to emphasize that it has not gone away. It is still very much a problem in our state, in our country and, of course, worldwide,” Thomas said. “So it is a worldwide recognition day and worldwide, when we look at the big picture, recent statistics show that there are 35.3 [million estimated] people that are living with HIV infection. In the United States, the number is somewhere around 1.2 million people that are living with HIV. The other thing we know is that every year, despite prevention, education and other efforts that take place, still somewhere around 50,000 new infections occur in the United States.
“So prevention is crucial to getting rid of the HIV virus. In Georgia, we’re not doing so well. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Georgia in 2011 was fifth for new HIV infections in the United States. So that’s a striking statistic. ... So even though we know that in the South HIV is increasing at a more rapid rate, Georgia pops right up there as one of the highest even of the Southern states. So it’s a tremendous problem because HIV can be prevented, but it seems pretty clear that people have not gotten the message as they should in terms of prevention of HIV.”
Formed in 1992, the AIDS Alliance assists about 110 HIV/AIDS clients in 10 northwest Georgia counties. Along with offering HIV/AIDS education and prevention, the Cartersville-based nonprofit also provides services to its clients, such as a housing program and transportation to doctors’ appointments.
At its office — 1 Friendship Plaza, on the third floor of Cartersville’s Train Depot — the AIDS Alliance administers free oral HIV tests on a walk-in basis each Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the anonymous test, a swab is rubbed on a person’s top and bottom gums, then placed into a solution that measures HIV enzymes. Results are available in 20 minutes and pre- and post-counseling also are provided.
“What we want people to know about prevention in particular is that HIV is preventable,” Thomas said. “We like a campaign that has been going on ... [that] also relates to World AIDS Day. It’s called ‘We are Greater than AIDS.’ ... It really talks about, and we hold to this, that HIV began one person at a time and it will end one person at a time, and that each of us bears a responsibility for helping eradicate HIV.
“So one person’s behavior, that one person at a time could potentially make the difference in eliminating HIV. So personal responsibility is what we like to emphasize, that each person needs to know their HIV status. If they are HIV negative, they need to understand how to remain that way. If they’re HIV positive, they need to know how to prevent spreading it to others as well as what to do in terms of their own health care and get into early treatment for their own well-being. It can’t be emphasized enough that each person has to be responsible for their own knowledge and understanding and behaviors when it comes to HIV.”
Found in certain bodily fluids, some of the primary ways HIV is transmitted is through unprotected sexual relations with an infected person and blood involvement, such as contaminated needles or occupation exposure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, www.cdc.gov, “CDC recommends that health care providers test everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 at least once as part of routine health care. Almost one in five people in the United States who have HIV do not know they are infected.
“HIV is spread through unprotected sex and drug-injecting behaviors (plus mother to child), so people who engage in these behaviors should get tested more often. ... If you continue having unsafe sex or sharing injection drug equipment, you should get tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). You should also get tested if
“• You have been sexually assaulted.
“• You are a woman who is planning to get pregnant or who is pregnant.”
For more information about the AIDS Alliance’s offerings, call 770-606-0953.