For Immediate Release
May 18, 2011

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

KDHE Announces Two National HIV/AIDS Awareness Days for the Month of May

May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day and May 19 is National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Topeka - The Kansas Department of Health and Environment announces two national HIV/AIDS awareness days for the month of May. May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day and May 19 is National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. There are two types of HIV, HIV-1 and HIV-2. In the United States, unless otherwise noted, the term “HIV” primarily refers to HIV-1. Both types of HIV damage a person’s body by destroying specific blood cells, called CD4+ T cells, which are crucial to helping the body fight diseases.

Currently there is no vaccine or cure for HIV; however, each year on May 18th we commemorate HIV Vaccine Awareness Day to raise awareness for the continued efforts to find a vaccine for HIV. Seth Berkley, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, was recently quoted in POZ magazine saying, “History shows us that the most powerful and cost-effective way to control a viral infectious disease like AIDS is with a vaccine. Many of us grew up in an AIDS-free world. We owe it to the next generation that they should be free of this terrible disease.”

Each year on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day Kansas citizens and staff at community-based organizations, health departments, and businesses can help raise awareness about the continued search for an HIV vaccine by wearing the red AIDS ribbon upside down so the ends of the ribbon form a ‘V’ for vaccine. You can learn more about HIV Vaccine Awareness Day by visiting http://bethegeneration.nih.gov/.

Also in May we commemorate National Asian and Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on May 19. This year’s theme is “Saving face can’t make you safe. Talk about HIV – for me, for you, for everyone.”  You can find more information about this awareness day by visiting http://www.banyantreeproject.org/.

The theme of not worrying about saving face helps raise awareness that many people, regardless of their race or ethnicity, choose not to test for HIV because they are afraid of what other people will think if they are seen going in for an HIV test. For many people, protecting their reputation actually keeps them from getting the help and care they need to survive. Though an HIV diagnosis is scary for most people to receive, it’s important to know you have HIV early on so that you and your healthcare provider can keep the disease under control and you can live much longer.

Unfortunately in Kansas there is a disproportionate number of people who test late for HIV, often finding out they are HIV-positive once they already have AIDS. “The first step in preventing HIV from becoming AIDS is to be tested and be tested early,” said Brenda Walker, Director of the Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention within the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “In 2010, fifty-five percent of the 171 newly reported cases of HIV in Kansas were diagnosed with AIDS. What's happening is people are waiting until they're sick and then they're getting tested for HIV and, of course, that's way too late.”

If you have never been tested for HIV, you should be tested at least once regardless of how low risk you consider yourself. Knowing your HIV status now and getting proper healthcare if you are HIV-positive is much better than finding out too late. So, why not get tested for HIV today? You can find free testing at many local health departments and community-based organizations by visiting www.hivtest.org.

Visit us on the web at www.kdheks.gov/hiv/index.html