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Georgia Marks 25 Years of HIV/AIDS Fight

December 9, 2013

Dec. 1 will mark the 25th annual observance of World AIDS Day, an international event aimed at raising HIV/AIDS awareness and expressing solidarity in the face of this enduring pandemic.  The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) will join statewide partners in spreading HIV awareness and encouraging the continuation of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment throughout Georgia.

In 2010, Georgia ranked sixth in the U.S. for the total number of adults and adolescents living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although there is still much work to be done, Brandi Williams, DPH’s HIV prevention director, said 25 years of education and prevention has made a difference in Georgia.

“The state has made remarkable strides in its fight against HIV,” Williams said. “We continue to follow the federal trends in HIV advancements in prevention, care and treatment.”

“Getting to Zero” is the theme of DPH’s World AIDS Day events this year, which parallels the UN AIDS vision of achieving zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. This year, DPH’s HIV/AIDS unit is reaching out to engage non-traditional partners in its HIV programming, including faith-based organizations, colleges and universities, and other non-health specific groups. One of these efforts is “Our Faith is > than HIV,” which distributes World AIDS Day kits to 45 churches in the state.

To mark World AIDS Day, the Glynn CARE Center HIV Prevention and Education program in the Coastal Health District 9-1, will host a theatrical performance, “Beyond Betrayal,” on Dec. 1 at the Ritz Theatre in Brunswick, Ga. The play’s author, Nykieria Chaney, said she wanted to create an educational program that used entertainment to raise awareness of HIV and its prevention.

“In order to reach disproportionately affected communities, you have to create messages they understand in ways they can relate to,” Chaney said. “I want viewers to leave knowing that HIV does not discriminate by race, gender, sexuality or religion. If you are not protecting yourself, then you too can be infected. And for those that are HIV-positive, remember, HIV is not a death sentence.”

Public health districts have been working all month long to give residents a chance to learn and speak out about HIV/AIDS. The South Health District 8-1, in collaboration with Valdosta State University, hosted a luncheon with Jeanne White Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, on Nov. 15. On Nov. 21, the district also co-hosted its second annual showing of “deepsouth,” a documentary "about the new American South, and the people who inhabit its most quiet corners. Beneath layers of history, poverty and now soaring HIV infections, four Americans redefine traditional Southern values to create their own solutions to survive," according to the documentary's website.

On Dec. 7, the Southwest Health District 8-2 will host “Pearls, Pumps and Purses,” a women-only event that will encourage women to discuss and fight the stigma associated with HIV. The program will begin at 12 p.m. at the Dougherty County Health Department.

Several locations throughout the state will provide free, rapid HIV testing and counseling in the weeks surrounding World AIDS Day.

•   Nov. 25: The North Health District 2 and Brenau University will offer free testing for faculty, staff and students from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., at 500 Washington Street in Gainesville.

•   Nov. 30: East Central Health District 6 will offer testing beginning at 10 a.m. at Paine College in Augusta.

•   Dec. 1: North Health District 2 will offer testing at the Prosalud Medical Center Health Fair in Gainesville.

•   Dec. 2: Cobb and Douglas Public Health will offer testing from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Marietta Public Health Center, 1650 Country Services Parkway in Marietta.

•   Dec. 2: The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments will offer testing at health centers in Buford, Conyers, Covington, Lawrenceville and Norcross.

•   Dec. 2: Southeast Health District 9-2 will offer testing at its clinics and at a local bar, the Traffic Light, in Waycross from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

•   Dec. 2: The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness and the DeKalb County Board of Health will offer testing at two locations: the Aldredge Health Center, 99 Jesse Hill Jr. Dr. SE, in Atlanta from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and Scores All-Star Sports Bar, 2425 Wesley Chapel Rd., in Decatur from 8 p.m.-10 p.m.

•   Dec. 5: The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness and the DeKalb County Board of Health will offer testing at the DeKalb Addiction Clinic, 440 Winn Way in Decatur, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

•   Dec. 7: The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness and the DeKalb County Board of Health will offer testing at the Gallery at South DeKalb Mall, 2801 Candler Rd. in Decatur, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Through new opportunities, DPH’s HIV/AIDS unit will continue to align its efforts with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to reduce new infections, reduce health disparities, increase access to care and support a more coordinated response to addressing the disease. This includes the implementation of prevention programs that address stigma, integrates mental health and substance abuse treatment programs and increases opportunities to link individuals into care.

“HIV/AIDS is no longer siloed as it was 25 years ago.” Williams said. “It is now integrated with other services that promote better health and well-being.” 

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