December 1 is World AIDS Day. It's an opportunity to remember those who have died from HIV and AIDS and support those still living with the disease. The first cases were discovered more than 30 years ago. Time Warner Cable News' Iris St. Meran spoke with doctors and community leaders to see how far we have during this time in combating this disease.
The world first started learning of AIDS and HIV three decades ago. In that time, the way we view it, handle it and even treat it has evolved.
"We went from a disease that was completely unknown, where people were dying, to something that we begin to recognize what this is," said Dr. Elizabeth Asiago-Reddy, Upstate University Hospital Immune Health Services Medical Director. "And then ultimately, in the mid-'90s was when we first were able to treat people with what we call highly active antiretroviral therapy, meaning that it's what we know as the 'cocktail.' "
Dr. Asiago-Reddy said that cocktail consisted of several pills daily, but is now just one pill a day. She said there are about 1.2 million people with the disease in the U.S. While she says New York State has typically had among the highest population of people living with HIV, it is now proving to be the leader in other areas as well.
"In the rest of the U.S., we've seen a relatively steady kind of trend, with a fairly similar number of new diagnoses per year," Asiago-Reddy said. "In New York State, we've seen a pretty dramatic decline. New cases have gone down by about 40 percent in New York State."
She explained that most of the decline has been in New York City. Twenty percent of the 132,000 people statewide with HIV live upstate. The country has come a long way in combating the disease, but experts say there are still certain populations who are at higher risk, including gay and bi-sexual men, as well as African Americans, intravenous drug users and even baby boomers. There are groups working to bring about even more awareness.
"The program helps to advocate, support and educate those who are living with or are at high risk for AIDS or HIV," said Juhanna Rogers, FACES director.
She and many others agree the disease remains an important topic worth everyone's attention.
"The increase in drug use that's happening, the heroin epidemic that's coming back, the behaviors and tendencies in young people today ... we need to start talking about it again," Rogers said.
"I don't think the fear is there," said Tiffany Lloyd, Onondaga County Family Planning Service Health Education Coordinator, "the fear that really drove us to increase the education and increase the condom use and whatnot. With young people, what I am seeing is that there is a lack of education in terms of HIV 101. I encounter young people that still don't know or understand that HIV is an illness that cannot be cured."
Regardless of your age, race or sexuality, those that work to combat the disease stress that everyone who doesn't take the proper precautions is at risk. The medical community believes the more people educate themselves and become less afraid of reaching out for help, the closer we will be to eradicating the disease altogether.
There are a number of resources in the Central New York Community helping people who have HIV or AIDS or who may be high risk. Here are some: