Dozens gather to commemorate World AIDS Day

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Dozens of people gathered on the steps of the City & County Building on Dec. 1 to honor those who have fallen from AIDS and to raise awareness about the disease.

“We gather today to remember people impacted by HIV and AIDS. We also gather with the shared desire for an end to this disease. Today we’re all united by one color, by one cause,” said Stan Penfold, director of the Utah AIDS Foundation and a Salt Lake City councilman.

Penfold, along with city council members Luke Garrott and Jill Remington-Love, presented a resolution recognizing World AIDS Day as Dec. 1 in Salt Lake City.

The need for education and awareness is as great as ever, and events like the one held in Salt Lake City need to help educate people about prevention and care, said Wayna Chase, whose young son, and husband, are both HIV positive.

“I want to remind you of another face of HIV,” Chase said.

In 2005, Chase’s 7-year-old son was diagnosed with HIV, and her husband, Jim, later tested positive.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen to us,” Chase said.

Wayna, her husband and son have been advocates for education since their diagnoses.

“If we all help educate even just five people, and they help educate five people, the reaction will be huge,” said Jim. “We need to bring it down to zero new infections. That has to be the goal.”

To help raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, the City & County Building was lit in a wash of red, and large banners are hanging from city street lamps commemorating World AIDS Day. Also, the Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll participated in Day Without Art, a response from galleries and museums that feature works by artists with HIV or AIDS to illustrate the impacts of the disease. The city featured a piece titled, Ruby Slippers, by the late DeWayne Sessions.

Sessions, who was HIV positive, was an iconic figure in the Utah art scene. His sponsorship of programs such as Art Positive, a series of art workshops for those infected with the HIV virus, as well as those who support and care for them, led him to receive the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Artist Award.

There are more than 2,550 people in Utah who have been diagnosed with HIV and the rate of infection is dropping. Between 2009 and 2010, the new rate of infection dropped 32 percent, state data shows. There were 86 new cases diagnoses in 2010. However, the Centers for Disease Controls estimates that on-fifth of people who are HIV positive are unaware they are infected. The Utah Department of Health estimates that approximately 20 percent of Utahns who have been diagnosed with HIV are not participating in a medical treatment program. Nationally, the CDC estimates that almost 75 percent of Americans with HIV are not receiving enough medical care to stay healthy. Of the 1.2 million people with HIV in the U.S., 850,000 aren’t receiving regular treatment to keep the virus at a low enough level to prevent transmission or harm their own health. About 240,000 Americans are not aware they’re infected with HIV.

For information about free testing, go to UtahAIDS.org or UtahPrideCetner.org.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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