Saturday is World AIDS Day, and this year the theme is Care to End AIDS. Charlottesville's AIDS/HIV Services Group (ASG) is speaking out ahead of that day about what we need to do in our community to one day cure this disease.
NBC29 sat down with a Charlottesville woman who has HIV, to talk about the importance of HIV and AIDS awareness in our community.
"These are the three pills that keep me alive everyday, said Lois Spears, who contracted HIV in the 80s. During that time, little was known about the disease.
"When they told me I was HIV positive, you talk about a blow, that blew my mind," Spears said. "I didn't think that I could catch it."
Spears says she's trying to stay on track and use her own life as an example for others. "I'm trying to keep this thing from occurring all over the world, well it's all over the world already, but at least slow it down," she said.
The people who work for ASG said the AIDS epidemic hits close to home in Charlottesville. They say there are about 80 new HIV infections each year in the area.
"If you care about homeless you should care about HIV. If you care about women's health, you should care about HIV. If you care about the health of our children and youth, you should care about HIV because it is affecting populations that are most disenfranchised," said Peter DeMartino, the executive director of ASG.
Currently about 1,000 people live with HIV in Charlottesville and 200 don't know they are infected. DeMartino says widespread HIV testing is the first step towards ending the AIDS epidemic.
"Here in Charlottesville we're working really diligently to make sure that people know their status, and if they are HIV positive they can live healthy lives," he said.
The Virginia Department of Health estimates that 50% of Virginians living with HIV are not getting the care they need. Spears says care is crucial.
"I'm taking care of me and I make sure my partner is safe," she said. "I'm good. I'm good today."
ASG will honor World AIDS Day by hosting an open house on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at their new facility at 315 10th Street NE in Charlottesville.
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