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HIV/AIDS Still Here, Especially In Guilford County

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World AIDS Day is held each Dec. 1 to commemorate those who have died from AIDS related illnesses and to spread awareness of those living with HIV.

There are currently 1.2 million people living with HIV in America.

Guilford County sees about 100 new cases a year. In North Carolina, there are 6,500 people who don’t know they are HIV positive and are at risk of transmitting the virus.

Triad Health Project (THP) has worked for 25 years to change those numbers. The agency assists those infected with HIV and AIDS, and offers support to family members and caregivers.

THP is one of the main agencies in North Carolina uplifting communities impacted by HIV and AIDS. Some of its programs serve as models at the national level.

THP’s Winter Walk for AIDS and the Ron Johnson 5K takes place Sunday, Dec. 4 and will start at the UNCG campus. The annual walk is a fundraiser for the agency’s client services and prevention programs.

HIV and AIDS remains a public health issue, even if the virus and AIDS-related deaths no longer make headlines like they did 20 years ago.

The Triad Health Project offers free and anonymous HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing. Other services include education, prevention services, a food pantry, education, and counseling.

In 2015, THP distributed more than 32,000 free condoms at various locations in efforts to encourage safe sex.

THP facilitates the Higher Ground Day Program. The program is open to anyone impacted by HIV and AIDS, including caregivers and family members.

There is no cure for HIV. Lifelong – and daily — treatment is necessary to remain virally suppressed and healthy. Finding the right medication combination and services can be difficult, particularly for those without a support system and challenged by limited resources.

Paula Barger, THP’s Development Director, points out “over 60 percent of those we serve fall below the Federal Poverty level. A third have no income and are in dire poverty. They lack resources in many different ways.”

Triad Health Project provides client case management to over 500 people a year. The goal is to empower individuals to stabilize and improve their health and quality of life.

“We want to make sure that people who are infected can mange their diseases,” says Barger.

An HIV diagnoses can be overwhelming and filled with challenges, from finding the right medicine combination to navigating social services. A diagnosis may trigger or coincide with substance abuse or mental health issues. Furthermore, side effects of certain HIV medications are unpleasant and may discourage compliance with treatment.

The Triad Health Project provides a support system and offers case management to help navigate those challenges.

For the Triad, the issues are urgent.

“As we look overall nationally, there is a list of top 25 metro areas for HIV infections. The Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area is number 20 on that list,” Barger shares.

Data from a 2014 study from The Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that North Carolina ranks 8th in the United States of reported HIV diagnoses in the country.

Few modern illnesses have impacted American culture like HIV and AIDS.

The issue defined the political and social arena during the 1980s. AIDS forced new discussions around sexuality, public health policy, and end-of-life-issues. The epidemic peaked in the 1990s and spurred innovation in medical treatment, which led to an HIV diagnosis no longer being an automatic death sentence.

As of 2015, around 698,000 AIDS-related deaths have occurred in the United States. The virus has claimed more lives than World War II casualties.

Infection rates have declined nationally due to increases in awareness and testing. Yet, the highest rates of new infections are in the south, particularly among gay and bisexual African-American and Hispanic men.

Scott Kent from THP’s Prevention Services says that these “two groups who are least likely to be adequately insured.”

Staff indicates that stigma and access to resources are the biggest challenges facing HIV diagnoses and treatment in the Triad.

Trent says that “we are also very concerned that the increase in homophobia and transphobia that have found expression in the political arena on both state and national levels–and perhaps even most dangerously in the lived experiences of our LGBT community who are increasingly victims of these attacks– are going to roll back years of progress against HIV-related stigma.”

Successful treatment is holistic and requires community support.

“It isn’t as simple as just taking a daily pill,” says Barger. Medication impacts people differently. Furthermore, an individual can become resistant to a medication regime.

Barger stresses that it is also “important for people to know that when someone becomes infected, it doesn’t just impact them. A lot of people are parents or primary care givers. When an individual doesn’t have food stability or the ability for steady work, there is a ripple effect on the family.”

Triad Health Project hopes the Winter Walk for AIDS will “raise awareness that HIV is still very much present in our community. One in six people don’t know their HIV status. They can transmit the virus if they don’t know their status,” says Barger.

The Winter Walk for AIDS will offer free and anonymous HIV and STI testing. A pharmaceutical company will also discuss a new clinical trial study for those diagnosed with HIV. An after party at Westerwood Tavern that evening will provide another opportunity to support and learn about THP’s work.

Barger shares the agency’s motto: One 4 Zero. “We ask every member of our community to do what they can to reach zero new infections in Guilford County. Prevention is key,” she says.

“There are people still dying of AIDS,” Barger points out.

Wanna go? Registration for the walk is from 1-2 pm. The opening ceremony begins at 2:00 pm at the Elliot Center. To learn more, visit triadhealthproject.com.

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