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National HIV/AIDS Awareness Rally Held in New Orleans

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By Michael A. Radcliff, Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

If ever one needed their spirits lifted or simply a good laugh, one only needed a chance encounter with Londy.

Londy's side-splitting antics would have most folks crying for her to stop. The family comedienne, the class clown, her reputation for turning life's lemons into lemonade was legendary. She also loved kids… her kids, your kids, everybody's kids… a PTO board member, a volunteer crossing guard - Londy's dream job was to one day own a day care center. In the Spring of 2008, at the age of 36, Londy, a mother of three, died of AIDS.

"She's Left the Planet," her sister, award-winning poet, Nikki Napoleon pronounced, as she performed a heartfelt rendition of a love poem written in honor of her sister during the National HIV/AIDS Awareness rally through the Tremé neighborhood recently.

"Too many of us have already left the planet," echoed Michael Hickerson, a social worker, community activist, Family Research and Evaluation Specialist for Total Community Action and chief organizer of this year's event.

"Knowledge is power and education has always been our most effective weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS," he went on to say.

Partnering with Crescent City Links, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Dean Beverly Favre and SUNO's School of Social Work faculty, staff and students, nearly 300 individuals, organizations and schools participated in the march keynoted by City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

"A myriad of thanks," Mr. Hickerson went on to say, "go out to Sheriff Marlon Gusman's office, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Office of Public Health, and so many others who dedicated their time and money to make this event a success."

So where do we stand in our fight against HIV/AIDS in 2011?

Over the course of the past quarter-century, nearly 25 million people have died from AIDS. HIV/AIDS causes debilitating illness and premature death in people during their prime years of life and has devastated families and communities.

According to the Global Health Council, "Through unprecedented global attention and intervention efforts, the rate of new HIV infections has slowed and prevalence rates have leveled off in many regions. However, despite the progress seen in some countries and regions, the total number of people living with HIV continues to rise."

Below are some sobering facts about the HIV/AIDS epidemic:

• In 2008, globally, about two million people died of AIDS, 33.4 million were living with HIV and 2.7 million people were newly infected with the virus. As of March 31, 2009, a cumulative total of 28,843 persons have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana.

• HIV infections and AIDS deaths are unevenly distributed geographically and the nature of the epidemics vary by region. While epidemics are abating in some countries they are growing in others. In a recent study by UNICEF it is notable that "more than 90 percent of people with HIV are living in the developing world."

• The HIV/AIDS virus does not discriminate by age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status - everyone is susceptible. However, certain groups are at particular risk of HIV, including men who have sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDUs), and commercial sex workers or prostitutes.

• The impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls (especially Africans and African Americans), has been particularly devastating. According to the World Health Organization (or WHO), women and girls now comprise 50 percent of those aged 15 and older living with HIV.

• HIV continues to disproportionately affect African Americans in Louisiana. In 2008, 72 percent of newly diagnosed HIV cases and 70 percent of newly diagnosed AIDS cases were among African Americans.

• The impact of HIV/AIDS on children and young people is a severe and growing problem. WHO goes on to say that, in 2008, 430,000 children under age 15 were infected with HIV and 280,000 died of AIDS. In Louisiana, in 2009 there were 308 cases of children under the age of 13 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

• In addition, globally, about 15 million children have lost one or both parents due to the disease.

Today there is hope. There are effective prevention and treatment interventions, as well as research efforts to develop new approaches, medications and vaccines. Consider that in 1993 the typical life expectancy for a symptomless person infected with HIV was less than seven years. The life expectancy of individuals with AIDS in 2011 has grown exponentially.

According to researcher Dr. Mark Stibich, "for people who have access to new medications for HIV, called 'highly active antiretroviral therapy' (or HAART), at age 20 - life expectancy has now increased to about 30 to 40 added years, if they can afford and take the HAART medication correctly." In other words, a 20-year-old individual diagnosed with AIDS today, who takes the proper medication, can now expect to live to be 50 or 60 years old - yet survival and quality of life are never synonymous.

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