30 years after first identified, HIV/AIDS survivors fight for more

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - It's World AIDS Day. This year marks 30 years since the virus was first identified.

More than 33-million men, women, and children worldwide have the disease. More than one million are in the U.S. President Obama held an event in Washington on Thursday with a host of dignitaries. He pledged an additional $50-million for AIDS treatment.

According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, between 2005-2009, more then 2,385 Kentuckians were diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

Numbers show nearly a quarter of Americans who are HIV positive don't know it.

Mark Hayden knows the reality of living with the disease.

He's 53, and has been HIV positive for 26 years. Hayden takes nine different medications every day. It's not easy, but it's keeping him alive.

"Everybody thinks it's somebody else," said Hayden.

To show that you can live with HIV, Hayden became a part of a national campaign organized by "Positively Aware," a magazine dedicated to HIV treatment. The individuals, couples, families, and groups in the photographs, whether HIV negative or positive, represent a collective portrait of what it means to live with or are for someone with HIV.

Hayden was one of 120 people chosen. His picture features him with his dog Sammy in Piatt Park. Thirty-one images were selected to be included in the November-December issue of the magazine. Hayden is the only person from Ohio featured in the campaign.

"I said I am not going to live in fear anymore," said Hayden. "I'm not going to allow myself to be marginalized. I'm not going to allow people to treat me any different. Just because I have HIV."

Northern Kentucky health officials said it's a message that more people need to hear.

"Today we have very effective drugs that almost completely stop the virus from growing," said Bob Ford, the senior health educator for HIV prevention for the Northern Kentucky Health Department. "Allowing the person's immune system to develop, to redevelop, to repair itself, and the person can stay healthy."

The Northern Kentucky Health Department recently partnered with the St. John United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Ky. to help spread that message.

Thirteen years ago, the church began marking World AIDS Day with an evening service. It features songs from the AIDS Quilt Song Book, hymns of faith and hope, poetry and prayers, and liturgies from around the world.

"Specifically, to pray for people who are infected with AIDS and affected by AIDS," said Rev. Keith Haithcock.

The church also allowed people to memorialize their loved ones with a message on a quilt.

Advocates have said the battle to keep more people alive begins with a test. Church volunteers started providing free anonymous testing 14 months ago. The results are available within 20 minutes.

While a positive diagnosis today isn't necessarily a death sentence, on the other side of the issue, some volunteers said that fact has, in some ways, become a negative.

"While that's great, a lot of people now aren't as concerned about it," said Michael Groves, the volunteer coordinator for St. John HIV testing team. "They figure if something happens they'll live with it. I think the focus should be on preventing it."

St. John volunteers offer free testing and counseling every third Sunday of each month from 1p.m. until 4p.m. The church is located at 520 Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department also offers walk-in HIV testing at various locations each month. For details, call 859.341.4264, ext. 2085 or visit: http://www.nkyhealth.org/hivtesting Anonymous testing is provided through either a blood draw or a mouth swab. Anonymous testing means your name is not connected to the test which means you control who knows your results.

For more on the exhibit, A Day with HIV in America: http://www.adaywithhivinamerica.com/


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