August 20, 2011
Richmond County health officials are asking for your help. They want more people to get tested for HIV.
Current stats in the county remain stagnant as some people decline testing. Officials say that could hurt funding for sex education programs and assistance for those living with HIV and AIDS.
"I've been HIV positive for 22 years and I am a recovering addict of three years," said Wanda Collier. It is her wish to be an advocate of HIV and AIDS.
She said she contracted the virus by doing drugs and engaging in risky behavior.
"I am a recovering addict and my life consisted of being in the streets and having unprotected to sex in order to get high," she said.
But now, Wanda is turning a new page. Her life changed the day she tested positive for HIV.
"You can have anything else in the world but if you have HIV people start to treat you differently," she said.
That is a part of the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
Sandra Wimberly from the Richmond County health department says stigma stops people from getting testing.
"We need to stop judging people because HIV is an illness just like any other illness," she said. "We do not want to continue to scare people off when they need to take care of their bodies."
Sandra says HIV stats have not been updated in the past few years in Richmond County. She said not enough people are getting tested and without new stats that could affect funding for sex education programs and assistance for those living with the virus.
"We have over nineteen-hundred people in Augusta living with the virus and that number is too high and could be higher," she said.
Sandra is working hand in hand with HIV AIDS advocates like Wanda. She said people like Wanda, have the strongest impression on those who are afraid to get tested.
Wanda is trying to stop the stigma and stop the spread of HIV and AIDS.
"I am working to stop the stigma and let me know that HIV is just what you have it is not who you are," said Collier.
She says she will continue to tell her story of survival and the importance of getting tested.
She says, "It is best to know because how can you live without knowing?"