Special Assignment: Augusta: Living with HIV, Part 2

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February 22, 2007

More than a million people in the US are living with HIV or AIDS, and at least 2000 of them are in the Augusta area.

Health officials say a lack of funding and awareness is leading to a growing number of HIV cases locally each year.

With the number of HIV and AIDS cases in the Augusta area increasing each year, Richmond County's public health educator Sandra Wimberly is increasing the time she spends in schools talking about it.

"What is frightening about this is that our younger population is becoming more infected with HIV," she said.

"I'm here to tell you, it does not matter if you come from a house off the hill or under the 13th Street Bridge. You can drive a Jaguar or you can ride a bicycle. It can happen to you," Wimberly said.

"It seems as though there's a hush-hush about it in this area," said Noah Williams. Noah is HIV positive and goes along with Wimberly to educate people about AIDS. "People don't want to talk about it. People are afraid to mention it," he said.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver has held several town hall meetings on HIV and AIDS. He's now looking to fight for federal funding to provide better patient care and to raise awareness through billboards and public service announcements.

A new HIV grant just awarded to MCG may be the biggest step for the community so far. Some of the money will fund a group known as the Ryan White Team for the next five years.

"We're really excited about our new grant," said Larry Howell of the Ryan White Team. "It was a competitive process and we were awarded $4.8 million."

"We go to gay bars, we go to churches, we go to any areas that invite us to do testing," Howell said.

The rest goes to the college to provide medicine and care for the nearly one thousand patients they see each year...even those uninsured.

Up until this point, Noah says for many getting help wasn't easy.

With heightened awareness about prevention and more testing, the hope is that the number of cases will begin to decline.

If you or your church, school, or organization wants to set up free testing with the Ryan White Team, contact MCG.

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