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World AIDs Day


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POSTED: Sunday, November 29, 2009

World AIDS Day on Tuesday will be observed in Hawaii with special events statewide to raise awareness of the disease that affects several thousand people in the islands.

“;It's a health issue, not a moral issue, and the more we treat it that way, the more likely we'll be able to kick it out of this beautiful state some day,”; said Paul Groesbeck, executive director of Life Foundation, which provides HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.

“;I think HIV/AIDS can be totally banished from Hawaii because of the way we're set up, but it takes some effort,”; he said in an interview.

“;The more there is housing, the more people stay healthy and the more different programs work collaboratively together to make sure all bases are covered, the more people get tested,”; Groesbeck said.

As of December 2008, Hawaii had 2,071 AIDS cases and an estimated 3,000 HIV-positive residents.

Hawaii has only half the average national rate of HIV transmission because of the state's needle exchange program, with “;a reduced number of women and especially children,”; Groesbeck said.

Life Foundation did more than 2,300 rapid HIV tests last year using a simple oral swab or finger prick, triple what it used to do when blood specimens were collected and sent to a laboratory for results one or two weeks later, he said.

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One-third of people tested in the past never returned for the results, increasing chances of passing on the infection, he said. “;Now, 100 percent of the people are still sitting there. It has been really encouraging. We're continuing to think of ways to cut through stigma and shame.

“;People shouldn't die of shame. ... The more we can talk about it, the better,”; he said. “;It's a behavior-driven epidemic; it passes from person to person. The more people know their status, the less likely they will pass it on to someone else.”;

At the end of every year, Life Foundation staff members gather and light a candle for every client who died, Groesbeck said. Deaths have declined from about 300 clients in 1992 to about 10 expected this year out of 700 clients, he said.

“;The combination of drug therapy and greater awareness of how HIV is spread and how to protect yourself have definitely helped,”; Groesbeck said.

Peter Whiticar, chief of the state Health Department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch, said in a news release that World AIDS Day is an opportunity for Hawaii residents “;to learn how the epidemic affects not only people living in countries abroad hardest hit by this disease, but also how our friends, neighbors and co-workers right here in Hawaii are impacted.”;

The department is collaborating with community agencies, AIDS service organizations and volunteers for observances of the worldwide effort focusing on the HIV epidemic.

A special event will be held 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Clement's Church, 1515 Wilder Ave., with performances by the Honolulu Men's Chorus, the Kananiokeakua School of Hula and musical styling of KUPAOA.

The winning entry will be displayed from the World AIDS Day Hawaii Youth Leadership Challenge, a statewide art, poetry and writing contest for youths ages 13 to 14.

For World AIDS Day events on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui, visit worldaidsdayhawaii.org or call Paul Davis at the Health Department, (808) 733-9010.