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On World AIDS Day, Health Educators Warn HIV, Stigma Are Still Serious Threats

A bunch of red balloons.
LeAnn E. Crowe
The Partnership for a Healthy Durham will release red balloons into the sky today in memory of people who have died from complications of HIV/AIDS.

It's World AIDS Day, a time when health educators work to raise awareness about the threat of HIV/AIDS. The state Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 36,000 North Carolinians are living with HIV

Triad Health Project Executive Director Addison Ore says the public has been talking less about the disease than in decades past. She worries people are underestimating the threat of the virus or the importance of prevention efforts. Ore says actor Charlie Sheen's recent announcement that he's HIV-positive was significant for the cause.

"Whenever anyone who's in the public eye like that discloses an HIV status, it's powerful. You know, here is a man who is a multimillionaire who readily admitted he paid over $20 million to keep this secret. I think this speaks to the power and the stigma of this disease, even in 2015."

Ore says there are 2,100 people in Guilford County living with HIV.

Triad Health Project will offer free HIV testing at an AIDS-awareness walk on Sunday at UNC-Greensboro.

Ore says on-site HIV testing is more successful at events on college campuses.

"I think that's an age thing," says Ore. "You know, people that age, getting an HIV test is kind of a normal thing. It's not as terrifying (as) to someone older than that. They've never lived in a world without HIV/AIDS."

About 1,500 people living in Durham County are HIV-positive. The Partnership for a Healthy Durham will host a World Aids Day vigil downtown at 4:30 p.m. today.

Paul Weaver of the Durham County Department of Public Health says friends and families of victims will speak.

"They'll be there to just kind of tell their stories about their loved ones," says Weaver, adding that they'll also release red balloons into the air in their memory, among other rituals.

"We have a quilt and the square pieces are put on usually by family members of those who are lost to HIV and AIDS in Durham County."

The event is at the LGBTQ Center of Durham. Free HIV testing will be available there, as well.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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