Local county recognizes World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day started in 1988, but this year there’s a new theme: Focus, Partner, and Achieve an AIDS-Free Generation. The goal is no new infections, no more discrimination, and no more deaths, but The Centers for Disease Control estimate that someone in the U.S is infected every 9.5 minutes.

The numbers across the globe are even worse. In Thailand on Monday, thousands of students, activists and health leaders handed condoms out in the area’s red-light districts to promote safe sex. In Uganda, many are took the day to stamp out the stigma still associated with HIV and AIDS. People also spoke out in Russia and asked their government to do more to stop AIDS from spreading. In the local 6 area, people held a candle light vigil and pushed education and prevention.

At the end of 2013, 5,949 Kentuckians reported living with HIV. That number doesn’t account for another 2,090 Kentuckians that may not know they’re infected. Infections increased by 19 percent between 2011 and 2012, and every county in Kentucky is impacted by HIV. A woman who lost her mother to the disease is working with local churches and health care providers to help bring those numbers down to zero.

Inside 9th Street Tabernacle in Paducah, what looks like a church service is actually an informational program teaching people how to prevent getting and spreading HIV and AIDS. Tysie Milliken said, “You have to educate yourself, and you have to educate your children.” Though she spoke boldly, Milliken said she couldn’t talk about the disease years ago. She said, “We were basically told to tell everyone that my mother had cancer.”

That’s something infectious disease physicians with Heartland Cares Clinic is working to change. “There is still a lot of stigma out there. There are still things that keep people from getting tested,” said Dr. Carl Lebuhn. Anyone from 13 to 64 should get tested, and people should be more aware about their options for care. Dr. Lebuhn said, “With one pill a day, people with HIV can lead a normal or near normal life.”

It’s information even teenagers need to be aware of. Milliken said, “I share my story with my babies. I share my story with my nephews and my nieces. They know.” Now, even strangers know too. They stood on their feet and appreciated her for being so bold to share her story. “It made my heart sing. It made me feel really good,” Milliken said.

Groups locally and around the country on Monday really focused on getting their message to teenagers. About 50,000 new cases each year come from the 13 to 24 year old age group.

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