TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A group gathered to remember the lives lost and to support those living with HIV/AIDS in Southeastern Arizona Sunday evening.
Several Tucson organizations joined other communities around the world in the largest grassroots movement fighting for the right to live and the right to health for those living with HIV with a service at the Historic YMCA.
More than 18,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Arizona, according to the most recent report from the Arizona Department of Health, which looks at data from 2017.
John Jackson, a bilingual case manager for the Southern Arizona Aids Foundation (SAAF), said they are still working to silence the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, but it doesn’t seem to be as loud as it used to be.
“It’s not so much the big, bad boogie man, where you get it and you just start to put your affairs in order like it was in the 80′s, or even in the early 90′s," said Jackson.
Jackson would know about the stigma surrounding the disease. He is one of more than 3,000 people living with the virus in Pima County.
Jackson received his diagnosis in 1996 after learning his partner at the time tested positive for HIV. Today, Jackson is healthy and shares support for others in the community through SAAF.
Although HIV can’t be cured, it can be managed. Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah, Medical Director for the Alvernon Family Medicine Clinic and Mobile Health Program, said a positive change in the last decade now puts a diagnosis far from a death sentence.
“We have new medicine, new arsenal that help reduce side effects and adverse events in a body. Help with resistance issues," said Dr. Grivois-Shah.
As the group remembered those who lost the battle Sunday, many will continue to break down barriers to treatment and testing.
“For peace of mind, just to know your status," said Jackson.
“It’s better for the entire community if everyone is getting tested and treated early," Dr. Grivois-Shah said.
According to the AZDHS, 768 people were newly infected in 2017.
177 deaths were linked to the HIV/AIDS registry in 2017, the lowest number in a decade.
Southern Arizona Aids Foundation, or SAAF, offers testing, prevention programs and more. You can reach the office at (520) 628-7223.
Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, or TIHAN, supports people with HIV to live well. You can reach the office at (520) 299-6647.
AIDS Ribbon Tucson is an interactive public memorial for the millions of men, women & children lost to AIDS, and anyone HIV-positive who died from other causes.
Pima County Clinics provide comprehensive services to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.