Originally published Dec. 12, 2011
While many people in South Georgia don’t want to acknowledge the numerous health problems we have, such as diabetes and hypertension, educating the community about HIV/AIDS can prove to be even more difficult.
With approximately 2,500 known cases of HIV/AIDS in South Central Georgia, local public health officials consider it necessary to better educate the community about prevention and treatment of the disease. In order to do that, South Health District’s infectious disease office along with Valdosta State University’s health promotions and student health office hosted a World AIDS Day Dine and Discover event at Valdosta State University on December 1.
The featured speaker at the event was Harold Katner, M.D., Chief of Infectious Diseases and Professor of Internal Medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine. Dr. Katner spoke on the theory of the non-African origin of HIV. This theory has existed for over thirty years and many health experts believe that the HIV virus existed long before the epidemic.
Infectious disease staff offered free HIV testing before and after the event. Over 130 tests were performed that day with no positive cases identified. Staff encouraged participants to wear a red ribbon on World AIDS Day and throughout the year to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS in South Georgia.
Valdosta Fire Chief J. D. Rice, on behalf of Mayor Sonny Vickers of the City of Valdosta, declared December 1 as World AIDS Day in Valdosta with a written proclamation. The proclamation emphasized that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a community-wide issue and does not fall strictly in the hands of public health.
A South Georgia client gave his testimony about being HIV positive, which helped to put a face to the disease. He conveyed the obstacles of living with HIV, but also talked about his positive experience working with the staff at the infectious disease office in Valdosta, giving a salute to those in the trenches each day.
While there is still a lot of work to be done surrounding education of HIV/AIDS in South Georgia, this was one small step forward in the right direction.