World AIDS Day aims to break stigma, promote education
DELMARVA – Founded back in 1988, World AIDS Day aims to raise awareness and promote education to end the HIV epidemic.
“Part of ending the epidemic is centering the communities most affected right now in 2021 by HIV/AIDS. That means going to all parts of Sussex county and reaching folks where they are,” CAMP Rehoboth’s Executive Director David Mariner.
This year’s World AIDS Day theme is End Inequalities. End Aids. End Pandemics. Advocates say to do that, it means breaking the stigma and stopping the silence.
“We have so many people living with HIV right now and they’re functioning and living their fullest life. So this day is really for us to acknowledge that we still have a ways to go,” Wicomico County Health Department’s Dr. Cynthia Calixte.
Health experts say that although there have been advancements with treatment and prevention, the current COVID-19 pandemic and the many variants in circulation put strain on an already tough fight. “I think across the state and here at CAMP Rehoboth our testing numbers went down and fewer people were getting tested for HIV,” Mariner said.
“For most of last year, we were closed to the public. We weren’t really able to see people. So those services that we would normally provide such as the PrEP clinic and HIV testing, we weren’t able to do it,” Dr. Calixte said.
Below are positive cases in Wicomico County from 2019 to 2021, with rates decreasing.
The Wicomico Health Department says a decrease doesn’t mean zero, a number they’re trying to reach for.
“And when I mention it to people they’re like they didn’t know we have this service. Even for primary care providers, they provide that service to anyone too. So for a lot of people, if they don’t ask they don’t know,” Dr. Calixte said.
That’s why organizations like Camp Rehoboth say they’re in the community, to spread knowledge and hopefully save lives in the process.
“We want to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The way we do that is by getting folks tested, getting folks who are HIV-positive into care, and greatly reducing the chance they could transmit HIV to other people,” Mariner said.
“Use us. That’s what we’re here for,” Dr. Calixte said.
Advocates say the goal is to remind people that HIV hasn’t gone away, despite the current health crisis of COVID-19.
Camp Rehoboth also provides testing services, even providing the option of pop-up testing events across Sussex County.