October 11, 2006
AIDS is a growing epidemic, and the problem is getting worse in Augusta. The city ranks third highest in the state in number of AIDS cases.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver says it's a problem we can't ignore.
Today, as part of a national AIDS education campaign, the mayor and several of Augusta's leaders put the facts on the table, hoping many of you will go out and get tested.
It's been 25 years since the first reported case of AIDS in the US, and while there's still no cure, it's no longer the death sentence it once was. The key is AIDS testing.
"If you don't take candy from a stranger why do we have sex with one?" Sandra Wimberly of the Richmond County Health Department said at today's AIDS presentation.
Almost 1600 people are living with AIDS right here in the CSRA. 79% are African-Americans.
"We've got to break down the stigmas and barriers," Commissioner Joe Bowles said. "It's not a gay disease anymore. It's a colorblind disease. Until you're affected by it, you don't understand what it is."
Bowles knows firsthand. His brother was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and died nine months later.
"The days I spent with him and watched him go through it...people need to know and understand medications are prolonging life," Bowles said.
More than a million Americans are living with AIDS, and 250,000 of them don't even know it.
Even though there's still no cure, without early diagnosis, the odds of survival go down significantly.
"If you don't know you have it, it's impossible for us to treat it," Wimberly said.
"I don't want people in our community to die needlessly," Mayor Copenhaver said.
Testing yourself takes just a few simple steps. Place a cotton swab on the inside of your cheek and hold it there for two to five minutes. Then place it in a vial and mail it off. Your results will come back in two weeks.
Augusta's leaders are stressing the importance of reaching out to the churches in the community and getting rid of the stereotype that AIDS is a devil's disease.
"I hope we can break down barriers," Bowles said. "Anyone can get it."
If you'd like to get tested, you can go to the Richmond County Health Department. A new test called Oraquick will give you your results in just ten minutes.