Experts Concerned about Dwindling AIDS Awareness

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Experts say there is a growing number of HIV cases in Charlottesville - and this week, there is an emphasis on awareness, thanks to World Aids Day. In honor of World Aids Day, the Charlottesville AIDS/HIV Services Group is having a free testing event at James Madison University. 

Even though treatments have advanced to help people live with HIV and AIDS since 1981, there's concern that it's making people complacent.

"We should probably be talking with young people about it again. The sense of crisis is almost gone,” said Eric Mayes of the Charlottesville AIDS/HIV Services Group.

The fight against HIV/AIDS has come a long way in the last 32 years, but for Charlottesville’s AIDS/HIV Services Group the battle continues, especially when it comes to dealing with a generation gap.

"We talk about it, but there's a difference between talking about it and actually having lived through it and seen it and kids, I'm not sure if they get it,” said Mayes.

Thanks to medical advancements, HIV/AIDS today doesn't have the death sentence stigma it carried 20 and 30 years ago. Instead of waiting two weeks for results, you get them in 20 minutes. Instead of taking a drug cocktail, there's a one pill a day regimen.

The progress overall is celebrated, but there is concern that young people may be taking the advancements for granted.

"Probably because they don't think of it in the same life-threatening way that older people do who saw the height of the epidemic in the 80s and 90s,” said Mayes.

It's estimated that about 2,000 people in Charlottesville are HIV positive. That’s the third-highest incident rate in Virginia, and it's growing among young people. The Charlottesville AIDS/HIV Services Group has seen a 22 percent increase in 13- to 24-year-olds.

"Only about half of sexually active young people are using condoms,” said Mayes.

Honoring the 25 Annual World Aids Day, there is a lot for advocates to celebrate. But it is still a challenge to translate the pains of the past into a sense of urgency today.

The  free testing event at James Madison University will be held Wednesday, December 4 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is open to the public and the entire process is confidential.

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