GIFFORD – The NAACP Indian River Chapter and Indian River County HIV/AIDS Awareness Network hosted an HIV Awareness Day at the Gifford Youth Group Activities Center Saturday to get the message out to be safe, be smart and get tested to help eradicate the disease.
The event featured free HIV testing, complimentary food and drinks, and education on sexually transmitted diseases. Spearheaded by the Indian River County Health Department, the Indian River County HIV/AIDS Awareness Network has been around since 2006. Alma Miller, Secretary of the Indian River County HIV/AIDS Awareness Network, was happy to partner with the NAACP to put on an event that would support educating the community about HIV/AIDS.
“We pass on the message to get people educated, tested and involved,” said Miller. “Our vision is pass the message, not the disease. Through behavior, prevention of this disease is something that you can control. Sometimes you save a life if you put that information out there We also give encouragement to those who have tested positive to seek treatment.”
Tony Brown, president of the county NAACP chapter, emphasized the importance of awareness in the prevention of contracting HIV.
“Everybody is hiding from it, and it doesn’t have a race, color, or creed,” said Brown. “Either we deal with it today, or it gets worse tomorrow. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a disaster. This thing is dangerous, it’s prevalent, and it’s not going away.”
Brown also cited the damage that homophobia has had on educating the masses. “We have to get away from all the old negative connotations,” he said.
Advances in medicine have made the HIV virus at least more treatable, but Miller said that medicine alone can’t cure the AIDS epidemic.
“Medicine is great, but it doesn’t cancel out unsafe sexual behavior,” she said. “The more people that are educated, and the more that we can practice safe sexual behavior, the sooner this disease can be eradicated.”
Eric Martinez, an outreach specialist for the Indian River County Health Department, added that communication about the disease has declined over the past 10 to 15 years. He’s part of an HIV positive support meeting that takes place monthly.
“Years ago there were more advocates and they got out into the communities and talked about the disease. What I’m trying to do is bring people of all ages together to talk about living with HIV,” he said. “The thing everyone in the group has in common is that they are there to talk about the disease and how to live with it.”
The group is for HIV positive clients only, and meets every fourth Tuesday. The next meeting is Dec. 22 from 6 to 7:3 p.m. For more information and directions call John May, 772-794-7477.