Saturday, Dec. 1 is World AIDS DayBy Alyssa Judd
Published: November 29, 2012
December is a month of many celebrations, one of which unites people across the world in the fight against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)/AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Throughout Guilford County and around the world, people will gather on Saturday, December 2, to remember the lives of those lost to AIDs and those who live with it daily. Created by the World Health Organization in an effort to increase awareness and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS research, prevention, treatment and care, World AIDS Day has been recognized annually since 1988.
In Greensboro, The Triad Health Project (THP) is an organization at the forefront of providing support to people in Guilford County living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
The organization along with several participating health agencies and sponsors will host the 21st Annual Winter Walk for AIDS and area residents are encouraged to participate.
According to Triad Health Project’s Web site, this is a three-mile walk which “raises vital funding for Triad Health Project’s direct client services and prevention education programs. This year’s theme is “I Am Positive…”, and “it serves as a powerful reminder that HIV/AIDS affects everyone.”
According to data collected in 2011 by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, there were 26,168 people living with HIV/AIDS in North Carolina. In Guilford County there were 1,967 people diagnosed with HIV. Guilford County ranks third across the state in HIV cases diagnosed.
Mecklenburg County ranks first with 4,715 people, followed by Wake County with 2,721.
Five hundred individuals living with HIV/AIDS are assisted annually in Guilford County through Triad Health Project’s direct client services. On Monday evenings the organization offers free, confidential testing at its Greensboro facility, located at 801 Summit Avenue. The organization also offers
testing at health fairs, community events and on college campuses. THP’s case management services help ensure that patients have access to life saving medications and are on a regimen, if needed, to control symptoms. To promote the education and prevention of HIV/AIDS the THP provides classes
for interested individuals or groups.
Ken Keeton, the director of development and community involvement at THP, said close to 50 percent of their clients are experiencing homelessness or have in the past. “What we have realized is that if someone is in that situation, they are not likely to adhere to a medication regimen. We have to
take care of the basics first. Our case managers work hard to get people in safe, affordable housing and to make sure individuals know where their next meal will come from.”
The Triad Health Project has two facilities; one in Greensboro and one in High Point. THP also has a communal retreat center called Higher Ground. The donated house, located at 210 East Bessemer Avenue in Greensboro, offers nutritious meals, counseling, educational programs, therapeutic workshops and
recreational activities. Volunteer practitioners offer clients sessions in Tai Chi and visual journaling.
“For many of our clients, it [Higher Ground] is the only place they can come and truly be open and feel safe about sharing their diagnosis. Many of them live with family members, who don’t know their status,” shared Keeton.
Greensboro resident, Alicia Diggs, was diagnosed with HIV in 2001. Her initial reaction was fear. Diggs was frightened by the stigma associated with her diagnosis. Diggs explained that her diagnosis has somehow become her life support. “It’s honestly made me more confident to take a stand,” said Diggs.
Since her diagnosis, Diggs has participated in the Winter Walk for AIDS for the last eight years. Diggs said her first walk was emotional, because she thought about the many people who have died and who currently live with HIV/AIDS. This year, her face appears on one of THP’s event posters. This is also her second year organizing a team of walkers. Last year Diggs’ team raised $400 for the event.
“I think it’s [learning about HIV/AIDS and working with THP] important because there are a lot of people living affected or effected and think they are by themselves. Once they know there are others willing to take a stand, it will be beneficial to the community so that people can get educated,”
said Diggs. “It’s not a death sentence and it doesn’t stop with one person, it takes all of us.”
Eleven years after Diggs’ diagnosis she volunteers with THP, has a bachelor’s degree in social work and is working towards a master’s degree in public health. Her family and friends have been supportive through her journey.
THP receives funding from a variety of sources, but their most significant contributions come from supporters and participants in the Winter Walk for AIDS and Dining with Friends events. Last year’s Winter Walk for AIDS was THP’s most successful walk. The organization raised over $140,000 and close to 1,500 people participated. Keeton encourages Triad residents to participate in this Saturday’s Winter AIDS Day Walk.
“We’ve come a long way with effective medication. People can live for a long time with healthy lives that thrive with this disease but, it is also a disease still filled with a lot of fear and stigma. People who are living with this disease are still struggling with feeling free and disclosing their
status. It’s important for people to have places like Triad Health Project and Higher Ground where they can go and know that they are supported in a safe place where they can be themselves.”
The Winter Walk for AIDS will be held on Sunday, December 2. The three-mile walk will have free, confidential testing before it begins at 12 p.m. For more information about the walk, go to www.winterwalkforaids.kintera.org