With around 33 million people living with HIV and AIDS worldwide, including 2.5 million children, World AIDS Day commemoration is a reminder the disease is still as prevalant as it’s ever been. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, doctors and victims here in our city say it’s more crucial than ever to be educated and safe.
When 32-year-old Fortunata Kasege found out she was HIV positive 10-years ago, she couldn’t believe it. She was pregnant, but didn’t fit into any high-risk category. It took her almost a decade to come to grips with her disease, but Kasege is now a community AIDS activist and is spreading the word that HIV/AIDS can affect anyone.
“Of course I didn’t think of myself that this could happen to me, and that’s part of why I’m doing this because people have a different way of thinking of who this disease could affect or not putting their face that this could possibly be me, so I want to bring the awareness that it could happen to everybody, regardless of your beliefs or your moral beliefs or anything.”
Kasege is a patient mentor at Houston’s Thomas Street Health Center and helps others who are HIV positive navigate what are sometimes daunting healthcare and support systems. She says the face of HIV/AIDS isn’t always what you might expect.
“Looking at myself, I’m just thinking that I want to tell everybody that treat well the people who have this disease, because it could happen to you. It could be you next. I see a lot of stereotyping, a lot of stigma going on, so I feel like I have a lot of work to do as far as educating people.”
In Houston, it’s estimated there are around 20,000 people with HIV and AIDS, with 1000 new cases diagnosed each year. Dr. Thomas Giordano is the Medical Director of HIV Services for the Harris County Hospital District and says those numbers are probably lower than reality.
“There’s probably 4,000 or so who have HIV but don’t know it. They’re not yet diagnosed. We really need to do more routine testing of HIV. There’s probably another 4,000 who are not in routine care and so we need to try to get people who know they have HIV into routine care because that’s our best hope for prevention, is getting people diagnosed so they don’t give the virus to anyone else and getting people under regular care so they don’t give the virus to anyone else.”
It’s estimated there are 40,000 new HIV infections each year in the United States, including more people getting the disease through routine heterosexual sex. World AIDS Day started back in 1988 and is commemorated around the globe.