2008-12-03 / Local News

Free tests offered by DHEC on World AIDS Day

By JOE L. HUGHES II Ledger Staff Writer joe@gaffneyledger.com

Each year, thousands of high school students take a number of tests that could play a part in whether they will go to college.

However, many will refuse to take another test that could potentially determine how they could spend the rest of their life.

An estimated 33 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS. The disease has been blamed for more than 2 million deaths, including 330,000 children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Currently, there is no cure for the disease.

In an effort to increase awareness, Dec. 1 was designated World AIDS Day. Several events were held around the globe, as well as South Carolina, where state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials emphasized the importance of getting tested for the potentially deadly disease.

"Free or low-cost rapid tests for HIV were offered at numerous locations in DHEC's county public health departments and community based agencies on and around World AIDS Day," said Dr. Andre Rawls, director DHEC's STD/HIV Division.

The theme for this year's World AIDS Day, "The Power of Partnerships," stresses the importance of everyone working together to make change happen in the fight against this epidemic. Hundreds of other events were held in communities around the country both in remembrance of AIDS victims and to educate people about the disease.

Though AIDS has not affected her or her family, local resident Sylvia Milton said anyone can become a victim.

"All it takes is one time," said Milton. "My mother said all it takes is one mistake to cause a lot of problems. One night with the wrong person or making the wrong decision could change your life real quick."

The ailment can be transferred in a number of ways, but primarily through sexual activity, contaminated hypodermic needles, or blood transfusion. According to Rawls, many people have no idea of the disease in its early stages.

"Most people in the early stages of HIV infection have no symptoms," Rawls said. "Early diagnosis can help us link people to services that will help them stay healthy longer, benefit most from treatments and services, reduce costly hospital visits and help prevent transmission to others."

Approximately 15,000 residents of the Palmetto State are living with the disease, with DHEC reporting close to 1,000 new cases each year.

According to the state health organization, there were 79 reported cases of AIDS/HIV in Cherokee County last year, with 39 people losing their battle against the disease.

While many people doubt a vaccine for the virus will be found during their lifetime, Shelby resident Ben Reaves said it will take everyone's cooperation to slow down the epidemic.

"A lot of us don't know where it came from, but we know it is dangerous," Reaves said. "It should be our goal to make sure we aren't helping it along.

"The best way to do so is get tested."

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