“World AIDS Day is a day set aside to focus on issues related to HIV and AIDS,” said Lola Thomas, executive director for AIDS Alliance. “It’s a combination of remembering lives that have been lost and our history related to AIDS but it’s also a day to be looking forward in terms of the future and envisioning a time when we no longer have HIV infection and AIDS. I think for the AIDS Alliance, this particular time we’re very focused on being a part of a campaign to eliminate HIV infection and with that said, there are a couple of things that have made us more determined to focus on that.
“There’s a recent study and recommendation [from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force] that all people be tested for HIV. We sometimes think that only people who consider themselves or seem to be at risk for HIV need to get tested. But, in fact, the recommendation has gone beyond that now, so that all people are encouraged to get tested and just to make that something that they do routinely.”
Found in certain bodily fluids, Thomas previously told The Daily Tribune News that HIV primarily is transmitted by contaminated needles or unprotected sexual relations.
Since the first cases of AIDS were documented in the early 1980s, www.AIDS.gov reports about 1.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with HIV. Of those, about 1.2 million currently are living with HIV, with more than 619,000 having succumbed to the disease, which in its late stages severely affects one’s immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five people who are HIV positive are unaware of their health status.
Formed in 1992, the AIDS Alliance assists 110 HIV/AIDS clients, ranging in age from 14 to 75, in 10 northwest Georgia counties. Along with offering HIV/AIDS education and prevention, the Cartersville-based nonprofit also provides services to its clients, such as a housing program and transportation to doctors’ appointments.
At its office — 1 Friendship Plaza, on the third floor of Cartersville’s Train Depot — the AIDS Alliance administers free oral HIV tests each Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the anonymous test, a swab is rubbed on a person’s top and bottom gums, then placed into a solution that measures HIV enzymes. Results are available in 20 minutes and pre- and post-counseling also are provided.
“Testing is crucial to the prevention of HIV because if someone does not get tested and they do happen to be HIV positive, many times what happens is their health deteriorates but also they may spread the virus without even knowing it,” Thomas said. “So it’s important in both of those ways. So getting tested is crucial to your own health as well as the health of others. We just can’t emphasize that enough — the importance of getting tested.
“It ties into the theme for World AIDS Day. ... It’s called ‘Getting to Zero,’ which means zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related deaths and that’s the goal. But to go forward, the first thing is to work really hard to get to zero new HIV infections. The only way to do that is for the people who are infected with HIV to know that they are and for them not to spread it to someone else. That’s first and foremost the key.”
Previously serving as the AIDS Alliance’s director of HIV Testing and Preventive Services, the Rev. Annie Carter — an associate pastor for St. Luke A.M.E. Church — believes it is important to locally observe World AIDS Day.
“We’re asking people in the community to come by and pray with us, sing with us, just have a good time praising the Lord, thanking him for the advances that have been made in HIV and AIDS treatments,” Carter said. “People need to know that the church is the place for solace and forgiveness, that the doors are open for all people. And St. Luke wants to be that type of church, where people will feel welcome and they can come there and be accepted as they are.”
For more information about the AIDS Alliance’s services or the upcoming World AIDS Day observance, call the Cartersville nonprofit at 770-606-0953.