On the first of December every year, people around the world mark World AIDS days with vigils and campaigns to promote awareness about the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS.
It is also a day to remember those who have lost their lives.
Right now, more than one million Americans are living with HIV, but one in five of them are not aware they are infected.
World Aids Day shines a light on the need for more awareness and action in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
It’s a cause Shannon Southall has dedicated much of her time to. Twenty-five years ago, Southall learned she was HIV Positive.
She chose to get tested for STD’s, including HIV, about a month after finding out her ex-fiance had been cheating on her.
After learning she had HIV, she called her ex to warn him to get tested, a warning she said he didn’t need because he already knew.
“He said ‘Yes, I’ve known for years and I was just hoping it wouldn’t happen to you,” said Southall “I was shocked. In denial. Angry. I wanted to run him over with my truck.”
After battling a few years of depression, Southall leaned on her family and doctors at University of Colorado Hospital for support and treatment.
“It has been a tough journey, but I wouldn’t let it become my death sentence. So many people have helped me and people need to know HIV is entirely manageable ” said Southall.
Advancements in medicine have made living with HIV easier for patients like Southall. At University of Colorado Hospital, doctors are currently treating over 1,500 HIV positive patients.
“The new regimens for patients usually involve one pill a day with limited side-effects,” said Dr. Jasjit Gill, a pharmacist at UCHealth and clinical mentor at the CU School of Pharmacy. “The ultimate goal is to virally suppress the virus—so the patient doesn’t show the virus in their system.”
Treatment is just one step in the fight against AIDS worldwide. In 2014, the Paris Declaration agreement was launched on World Aids day by the International Association of Providers of AIDS care, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and UN-Habitat as part of a global effort to reduce new HIV infections and prevent deaths related to AIDS through testing, treatment and education. It’s also known as the 90-90-90 initiative, an initiative Denver Mayor Michael Hancock joined in 2015.
“The goal of this: 90 percent of people living with HIV will know their status, of that -- 90 % of them will be on care and treatment, and 90% of those will receive viral suppression" said Terra Swazer, a fiscal officer with Denver’s office of HIV resources.
“We want everyone to know their status, whether they are negative or positive.”
Since joining the initiative , Denver has become one of the first cities in North America to reach the United Nations target of having 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status.
“Denver has one of the most comprehensive networks supporting people living with HIV, and as a community, we are changing the future of those living with HIV/AIDS,” said Mayor Hancock.
Southall said the efforts being made are a step in the right direction, but knows the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS is far from over.
“We can end this epidemic, but we need band together and see this as a health issue and not a behavior issue,” said Southall “that is the biggest obstacle in our way right now—the stigma and the shame that surrounds it.”
For those interested in getting an HIV test, there are free testing facilities across the metro area. For more information, click here: http://denverpublichealth.org/home/clinics-and-services/hiv-care-and-prevention/hiv-testing-