Advocates march to AL statehouse for HIV, AIDS awareness

Published: Mar. 11, 2016 at 12:15 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 19, 2016 at 12:26 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Thursday marked the 19th annual Alabama HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Advocates took to the streets of the capital city to make sure lawmakers heard their concerns and to raise awareness about the virus.

"We've been training for two months; just getting some awareness about how to be an advocate in the state legislature and how to effectively message that to somebody who may have never heard of HIV or thinks HIV is not a part of their district," said Alex Smith, Director of Policy and Advocacy for AIDS Alabama.

ADPH recently released it's preliminary numbers for 2015 on HIV infection across the state. While not final, the numbers show 353 new cases of HIV and nearly 20,000 people living with the virus in the state of Alabama. Around 25 percent of those new cases came just from Montgomery County.

The advocates are asking for $5 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, something they say will go a long way toward treating and stopping the virus here in the state of Alabama.

"Having people on medication avoids complications of not having them on medication such as overwhelming the emergency care system in indigent care hospitals," Smith said. "And that cost, if a person is not connected to medication, can run about $100,000 per year, per person and that would be a cost to the state."

But the only way you can get treatment for HIV is knowing you have it by getting tested, something doctors say everyone should do. An estimated 1-in-6 Alabamians don't know they are living with HIV.

"We could treat [it] early and get a better handle on the infection," said Dr. Marguerite Barber-Owens with Montgomery AIDS Outreach. "Sometimes because of the stigma surrounding it, there's one, two years delay and now we're real sick and it's a lot more difficult and more damage has been done. It's very important for our future generation that we be aware, that we be tested and that we be treated."

The Alabama Department of Public Health says every public health department in every county in Alabama offers low-cost or even free HIV testing.

Thursday also marked National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Although women only make up 25 percent of HIV cases, advocates say it's important women realize they're at risk for catching the virus as well.

"Early on, when HIV was first seen in the United States, it was thought not to be a disease or an infection that infected women," Barber-Owens said. "Unfortunately because of that, for a long time, we were ignored. When we get HIV and then become pregnant, it becomes an infection of two people."

If you are living with HIV or want to be tested, you can find resources easily on the AIDS Alabama website.

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