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South Ga. health departments, VSU raising awareness on HIV, AIDS

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 5:54 PM EST
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - The CDC ranks Georgia fourth in the U.S. for new HIV cases, with a lot of cases affecting South Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is working to raise awareness, encourage people to be informed and get tested.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS.

It’s considered one of the worst pandemics in history and continues to affect millions worldwide.

According to the state’s public health department, one in six people living with HIV in Georgia doesn’t know they have the virus, which increases the risk of infecting others.

South Health District (SHD), which serves 10 counties including Lowndes, Brooks and Cook counties, ranks fourth highest in HIV diagnoses.

HIV Prevention Program Manager Sharah Denton said the lack of education may be a factor.

“From the prevention side, I think it is a lack of understanding education. A lot of times going out into the field and talking to people, they have a lot of misunderstanding about HIV. They think you can still get it from a kiss or a touch,” said Denton.

SHD is working on debunking these myths, providing the facts and teaching preventative methods.

Valdosta State University (VSU) is also working to raise awareness.

The university’s Odum Library partnered with campus Pride and Georgia Equality to bring an informational exhibit to campus.

It highlights the fight against HIV/AIDS, and it shows support for those living with it and memorializes those who have passed away from it.

Bringing attention to the ongoing crisis with messages of hope, activism, love and remembrance.

The exhibit consists of three displays.

The exhibition includes the National AIDS Memorial Quilt, Billy Howard’s “Epitaphs for the...
The exhibition includes the National AIDS Memorial Quilt, Billy Howard’s “Epitaphs for the Living,” which is a collection of photography, showing messages and images of those impacted by AIDS in the early days.(WALB)

The National AIDS Memorial Quilt, Billy Howard’s “Epitaphs for the Living,” which is a collection of photography, showing messages and images of those impacted by AIDS in the early days.

And the collection of photographs called African Americans Responding to AIDS in the 80s and 90s. Showing personal stories of activists, caregivers, health professionals and community leaders.

“I think by bringing the personal stories, not only activists but family, friends and those who died of HIV is especially moving. It touches a personal vein. You have notes from people directly affected by this crisis. It lets you identify that it’s happening here in the local community,” said Douglas Carlson, assistant archivist at VSU Archive and Special collections.

This is the first time VSU displays this exhibit on campus. Due to recent data, they felt it was important to do so.

According to Georgia Equality, the state’s largest advocacy organization for the LGBT community, over 25% of all new HIV diagnoses are among those 13-24 and more than 70% of cases are African-Americans.

Director of VSU Archives Deborah Davis said it’s important to remind students that the disease is still an active issue.

“A lot of them think that AIDS is over with, it’s done. It’s something we don’t need to worry about now but because of the new growth in numbers. It’s important to target their awareness,” said Davis.

This exhibit aims to do just that.

A look inside the HIV exhibit at Valdosta State.
A look inside the HIV exhibit at Valdosta State. (WALB)

“The narrating stories over there with the pictures are incredibly moving and as students walk by, they’re going to see these people, they are going to see the words, they’re going to get hit as soon as they come in the door,” said Davis.

The exhibit at VSU is open to the public until Dec. 15. For more information on the exhibit and hours open to the public, click here.

All county health departments within the South Health District provide free HIV testing. Call your health department to schedule an appointment.

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