World AIDS Day in Fresno and all year round

Dozens gather with candles in front of Tower theater on December 1, 2016 to read the names of those in the Fresno community who have been lost to AIDS. Megan Bronson / MY LGBT PLUS

Dozens gather with candles in front of Tower theater on December 1, 2016 to read the names of those in the Fresno community who have been lost to AIDS. Megan Bronson / MY LGBT PLUS

This December Fresno celebrated World AIDS Day with a march and a vigil for those that the Fresno community has lost. Names were read at Tower theater while The Painted table opened their doors to showcase patches of the world AIDS quilt.

A crowd of about 50 people gathered for the vigil and then headed to The Painted Table to view selected panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt is a visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic that is still going on today. There are more than 94,000 names stitched into the quilt, with having over 18,000,000 visitors world wide.

Every year on December 1st people around the globe come together to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS. This day is also set aside to commemorate those who have died and to support those that are living with HIV and AIDS.

Support can be as easy as wearing a red ribbon and explaining to those around what that ribbon represents. It represents the 35 million people who have died since 1984 in the worldwide AIDS epidemic. It represents the continued support of 34 million people living with the virus today.

While people publicly gather to show solidarity, there is more that the Fresno community can do to stand in solidarity and show support.

Maria Baldovinos, a communicable disease specialist with Fresno County Department of Public Health, said one of the most important ways for anyone to show support is to be open.

“A lot of times individuals that are HIV positive are so scared to let others know their status just because of the stigma behind it -- especially in the Latino community as well as the African American community,” Baldovinos said.

She advocated for removing the stigma against those with HIV and AIDS.

“It’s not a disease you can get by hugging, or showing compassion," Baldovinos said, "we need to show that we are all humans and that we care for each other."

Some of the ways that individuals can work together to erase that stigma is by getting involved. Here in Fresno there are multiple local organizations that support the HIV positive and AIDS community.

Fresno has a World Aids Day Committee that is open to anyone who wants to join. This committee helps plan awareness events like the one this month, but also events like Women’s HIV Awareness day and National HIV Awareness day.

Positive Life is another organization that you can donate time or money to. It is a nonprofit organization that helps those infected and affected by HIV or AIDS with education, healthcare, support groups, and finding community. To find out more about Positive Life, visit their website at www.poslife.org.

The Living Room is a nonprofit organization through WestCare California that provides care for those infected or at risk of HIV or AIDS. It does this through case management, hot meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a drop-in center, transitional housing, referrals for rapid HIV testing, and support groups. For those that qualify, The Living Room offers assisted living through Housing Opportunities for Persons With Aids (HOPWA). To find out more or to donate your time or money, visit The Living Room’s Facebook page or call (559) 486-1469.

There are also programs available through the county that are available resources that all individuals should know about.

Fresno County offers AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to help those who qualify with paying for their medication. ADAP covers over 190 different Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs.

Fresno County also offers Linkage To Care, a program for HIV positive individuals to help individuals link to physicians and health services.

The Department of Public Health also offers HIV Rapid Testing. This service is for same-day results, in fact, results will be given in 20-30 minutes through a mouth swab. A schedule of times and locations for December can be found here: http://bit.ly/2heGBwr  

One of the most important things for you to know when discussing AIDS or HIV, it your own status, Baldovinos said.

“A lot of times you may not have any symptoms -- it takes about 7-10 years to get really sick,” Baldovinos said, “get tested at least once a year.”

As of December 31, 2013 there were 701 cases of HIV and 2081 cases of AIDS in Fresno County. That number has been steadily increasing over the last decade  as those who did not live in the 80s and 90s are not as aware of this pandemic. World AIDS Day began in 1988, but is still needed to raise awareness and education to this day. Do your research and know your status.