Aids is still very much a health epidemic, including here in the Coachella Valley. That’s according to specialists who gathered in Palm Springs for the Pathways to Health and Well-Being HIV Conference, marking ‘World Aids Day.’
Desert Aids Project and the Riverside County Department of Public Health hosted the conference at the Palm Springs Convention Center.
“We’re just really excited to be able to have the opportunity to bring what we think is incredibly valuable information to people who are living with HIV or people who just have an interest in learning more about HIV and AIDS,” said Barry Dayton, Director of Marketing and Communications with the Desert Aids Project.
Experts say despite the advances in treatment and better understanding of the virus, there’s still a long road to stopping the spread of the disease and finding a cure for it.
In 1995, Timothy Ray Brown became infected with HIV. Then, 11 years later, in 2006, a doctor diagnosed Brown with Leukemia. At the time, one of the only options to fight it, was a bone marrow transplant, considered an extremely dangerous procedure for someone with the two diseases.
“I only had a 25% chance to survival,” Brown said.
The transplant ended up curing his cancer and HIV, too. Brown is known as ‘The Berlin Patient,’ the first and only man in the world to be cured of the infection.
“I’m very happy to be here and I’m very happy to be in Palm Springs,” Brown said.
He attended Monday’s conference that helps raise awareness about the disease and resources available to help treat, support and stop the spread of the virus.
“There’s so many people who think that there’s been a vaccine against HIV, or that there’s been a cure for Aids and that somehow it’s not a concern anymore,” said Dayton.
According to the Riverside County Department of Public Health, the first case of Aids was first reported back in 1983. Since then, more than 6,300 cases have been reported to the department of public health and 2,988 people in the county have died from the disease.
“Recent numbers have shown that there are perhaps 2,000 or more people in the Coachella Valley who are living with HIV, but are unaware of their HIV status,” Dayton said.
That’s why they set up a mobile testing station, part of the ‘Get Tested Coachella Valley” campaign outside the convention center to encourage people to get tested.
“It’s been proven that if you get on HIV medication early on, you become 96% less likely to pass it onto somebody else,” Dayton said.
Brown says he’s just hoping people realize the fight against the disease is far from over.
“It’s important that we bring that back into peoples memories that there are people that still have HIV.
The Riverside County Department of Public Health collaborates with community partners to provide services that help stop the spread and improve the well-being of those living with the virus.
* The HIV Care Program
* The HIV Prevention and Education Program
* The HIV Surveillance Program
For more information click on the link www.rivcohivaids.org