VALDOSTA – World AIDS Day is a global health event held annually Dec. 1.
The event offers an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for those living with HIV/AIDS and to commemorate those who have died, according to area health officials.
Althea Daniels, HIV prevention manager, said World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988. This year marks the 30th anniversary and South Health District officials hope the infectious disease program will increase awareness and participation to mark the date.
In collaboration with Valdosta State University, the ID program will host a World AIDS Day event 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, VSU in the University Center, Cypress Room.
Cass Marie Downing, HIV activist and advocate, will be the guest speaker, sharing her past struggle with drug addiction and HIV diagnosis.
Downing was diagnosed with HIV during a time when deaths from AIDS had reached an all-time high, health officials said.
“Stigma, discrimination and fear did not stop Cass from living,” Daniels said. “She chose to fight back by becoming an advocate for HIV/AIDS through community work and HIV/AIDS resource centers. We are thrilled to have her as our guest speaker during the 30th anniversary event.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV today, and only one in seven know it, health officials said. Young people are the most likely to be unaware of their infection. Among people ages 13-24 with HIV, an estimated 51 percent don’t know it, they said.
To empower more people of knowing their HIV status, all county health departments in South Georgia (Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Tift and Turner) will provide free HIV testing, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29. No appointment is needed.
Free HIV testing will also be held following the Nov. 30 event at Valdosta State University, 1-2 p.m. in the University Center, Rose Room.
Lunch will be provided during the event; however, people interested in attending must register by calling (229) 245-8711, ext. 288 or 303. Online registration is also available at www.southhealthdistrict.com.