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Community Forum to Discuss HIV/AIDS

Oct 23

Written by:
Wednesday, October 23, 2013  RssIcon

Every nine and a half minutes, someone in America is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

That infection no longer equates to a death sentence in the United States, but health care advocates are concerned people no longer see the virus and the disease as important public health concerns.

“People have become a little complacent when it comes to HIV. They see the progress and think things are fine, but this is still a harmful virus,” said Randy Lykens, an HIV care coordinator at Meridian Health Services. “When I speak to college students, I hear them say, ‘all you have to do is take a pill and it’ll be all right.’ Well, not exactly. I’m concerned about the college-aged kids and the baby boomers, especially the ones getting back in the dating life. HIV is still out there.”

This week, Lykens and other HIV/AIDS care advocates, as well as local physicians, will address the importance of the virus and the disease nationally and locally at the final community readers’ forum at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital.

They will serve on a panel Wednesday evening to discuss the book, “My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story,” a work by Abraham Verghese, a physician who worked in Johnson City, Tenn. The panelists will also address questions from the community about HIV/AIDS.

This topic not only concerns those living in large cities such as Chicago, New York of Indianapolis, but residents of nearby towns and counties as well.

In East Central Indiana, 206 people are living with HIV, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s data from 2011. That’s a 5 percent increase from 2010.

Meridian Health Services has also seen evidence of this rise. The agency’s HIV care coordinators assisted 6 percent more clients in 2011 than in 2010.

“The need is still here. So is the stigma, after all these years,” Lykens said. “We’re serving 42 percent of the people in the area with HIV because so many prefer to go to Indianapolis or somewhere else for treatment. Somewhere where they won’t run into someone they know. They still want to keep their disease a secret. But we are here to help anyone who needs anything.”

The Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Foundation is a sponsor of the forum on Wednesday evening, using the event to provide a comfortable space for residents to learn about HIV/AIDS.

Throughout the year, the forum has provided residents with the chance to learn about a variety of medical issues, speaking with doctors and social service professionals about Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, surgical concerns and more.

“These have been some pretty serious topics, but I think the public have been pleased to come and learn what they can from the physicians and others in the community,” said Tricia Stanley, president of the foundation. “That’s what has made the series so successful. People came to be informed and had questions to ask without feeling intimidated.”

In 1995, 43 percent of Americans believed HIV/AIDS to be the most important health issue for the country. By 2009, that number dropped to 6 percent.

To change that, President Barack Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services created a new strategy in 2010 to educate the public about HIV/AIDS as well as to decrease the number of HIV infections each year.

A key to the strategy is encouraging community dialogue about the virus and the disease, engaging residents in prevention and awareness.

“The virus is a serious issue for people who are infected, especially those without the funds to receive treatment,” Lykens said. “The medicines are very expensive and people still have chronic pain or lack of feeling in their fingers and toes. It’s still a difficult treatment. Preventing the infecting is as important as it ever was. I’m glad to be a part of the effort to discuss in the community.”

Written by
Ivy Farguheson of the Star Press

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