World AIDS Day — which kicks off Wednesday, Dec. 1 — was created by the World Health Organization and the United Nations General Assembly in 1988 to remember those who have died and to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. And although a lot of the stigma attached to being HIV-positive has been removed through the consistent and valiant work of activists, there is still much work to be done to continue raising awareness, promoting prevention and supporting those who are living with the disease.
Charlotte is not immune to HIV/AIDS or participating in World AIDS Day. According to Avert.org, for every 100,000 people in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord area, 15.6 people received an AIDS diagnosis in 2008. In North Carolina, 22,896 people were living with an HIV diagnosis and 9,425 received an AIDS diagnosis in 2008. The Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN, www.carolinarain.org) reports that on average, seven new cases of HIV are reported per week in Charlotte. African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by HIV, comprising 68 percent of all new reported HIV cases in Mecklenburg County in 2007, despite representing only 28 percent of the county's total population. Mecklenburg County has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in North Carolina.
Through organizations like RAIN and Carolinas Care partnership, which exists to foster and ensure a regional approach to HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, AIDS education and awareness is kept in the public discourse in Charlotte.
This year, the World AIDS Day organization is asking people to "Act Aware," meaning that they want people to "take action to tackle HIV/AIDS prejudice and to protect yourself and others from HIV transmission."
Some of the ways that people in Charlotte are implementing this goal is by getting tested. Knowing your status gives you the opportunity to not knowingly or willingly pass on the disease. You can make sure that you are taking preventive measures before participating in activities that might increase the risk of transmission, like unprotected sex. Clearly, we should all know by now not to engage in unprotected sex, but not wrapping up is the leading cause of HIV infection in this country among homosexual and heterosexual populations.
In Mecklenburg County, there are eight free clinics where you can go and get tested, such as the Charlotte Community Health Clinic (3040 A Eastway Drive, 704-316-6561), the Matthews Free Medical Clinic (113 N. Ames St., Matthews, 704-841-8882) and the Charlotte Volunteers in Medicine Free Clinic (1315 Beatties Ford Road, 704-350-1300), among others.
The medical community isn't the only group trying to raise AIDS Awareness and encourage HIV testing. Carolinas Care Partnership (www.carolinascare.org) will offer free HIV and syphilis testing on World AIDS Day, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., at 7510 E. Independence Blvd., Ste. 105.
The annual Red Pump/Red Tie Gala, which is part of the Red Pump Project (redpumpproject.tumblr.com) and started out as an online awareness campaign, will also be held this World AIDS Day. This year's gala will feature an art showcase and a Rock The Red mini-runway show. The event will honor prominent leaders in the community and their individual efforts to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and education with the "Red Pump" Award. The gala costs $45 and will provide a monetary donation to RAIN.
In addition, RAIN will be hosting a World AIDS Day Commemoration Event at Polk Park (located at Trade and Tryon) beginning at 11:30 a.m. "In years past, we would do a reading of the names to honor those who have passed. This year, we are looking to focus on commemorating those who are making a difference now. While we still remember those who have passed, it is our goal to paint HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention with a broader stroke," said Nathan Smith, Director of Development and Marketing at RAIN.
In terms of how I'll recognize the day, I'll be participating in a vigil for a friend who died due to HIV/AIDS-related complications. But whatever you do, do something to make a difference in the Queen City.
For more info, visit the World AIDS Day website www.worldaidsday.org/do-something.aspx.