Health Advocates Continue Push for AIDS Awareness

Health Advocates Continue Push for AIDS Awareness

The St. Joseph Health Depart offers free AIDS tests on World AIDS Day.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Human immunodeficiency virus infection / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or HIV/AIDS, have only been defined as conditions since 1981.

And for more than 30 years, health advocates have worked to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.

"No one wants to be told they're HIV positive, just like no one likes to be told they have cancer," said St. Joseph Community Health Services director Kelly Kibirige.  "But the difference is, we are not in the mid 80s any more.  Treatment is very effective."

Mitzi Teliczan, who works hard as a health educator for the city of St. Joseph, says HIV/AIDS awareness has improved drastically.

"Having testing available and making it easy to access has really helped it become more of an accepted practice.  We're not there yet; we're not all the way there because we're not at zero.  But I think people are a little more open to discussing it," Teliczan said.

With services like a free HIV test, the St. Joseph Health Department is working to get people more comfortable with that discussion.

Just a prick of the finger and a fifteen minute wait and you're out the door.

"It's important to detect early," Kibirige said.  "Remember, the longer and longer you have HIV and don't know your status, the more virus you have in the body."

Kibirige says early detection of HIV can mean a more sustainable life, living with the virus.

Teliczan says part of the work over the years has been removing the stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections.

"It's not a sign that anyone is bad or good," she said.  "It's a bacteria or a virus that has happened.  Once a person sees that, and realizes it's no reflection on who they are as a person, they'll better relate to themselves, take better care of themselves, and possibly keep them from infecting somebody else."

It's estimated that one in five people infected living with HIV is unaware they even have it.

Other estimates have the total number of cases worldwide since 1981 at more than 75 million.

Teliczan spends some of her time teaching teens about STIs and safe sex.

She says one preventative measure is starting that discussion with young people.

"I think it's very important to be open and for parents to be an 'askable parent,' as far as if their children have questions about sex," Teliczan said.  "HIV and AIDS has really opened up the community to the point where we have to talk about some things that before nobody ever wanted to talk about."

Tuesday, the Health Department is encouraging people to wear red ribbons to show their support for HIV/AIDS awareness.

Wednesday, the public is invited to the East Hills Public Library at 12:30pm, for free showings of AIDS-themed films.

Thursday, a fundraiser is being held at Zion United Church of Christ.  $10 gets you all-you-can-eat pizza and soda pop.  There will also be a live auction and a raffle.
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