World AIDS Day

MCHD commemorates local victims of HIV virus while combating the disease using education, prevention

Volunteers Susan Waino, Sharon Cashin, and Pat Grassier organize decorations for the World Aids Day event at the Peter White Public Library on Thursday. The tree decorating is held every year in memory of those lost to AIDS and to bring attention to the continuing need for education and prevention surrounding HIV/AIDS. Below, Paula Kiesling adjust lights on the Christmas tree. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Government agencies and health care providers have been working since the late 1980s to find a cure for HIV, but part of that requires having an open dialogue about the disease, officials say.

The Marquette County Health Department Continuum of Care Program joined organizations across the globe to celebrate World Aids Day.

MCHDCCP hosted a Christmas tree decorating event on Friday at the Peter White Public Library, to both commemorate those lost to HIV and to continue to educate the public about early detection and prevention of the disease.

The ceremony the placement of red ribbons and red ornaments bearing the names of loved ones lost to AIDS were placed on the tree, followed by a memorial.

The Marquette County Health Department has been holding World AIDS day events since 1988, said Laura Fredrickson, HIV/AIDS Coordinator for the Marquette County Health Department.

“I have been here 20 years and we have always done a tree,” Fredrickson said. “We’ve always done something for World AIDS Day.”

The importance of prevention and early detection for the disease continues in the Upper Peninsula, Fredrickson said, with a recent increase in reported cases.

“There are over 100 diagnosed in the U.P., and those numbers are up from when I first started 20 years ago. We need to do a lot of work with prevention, it needs to start early,” Fredrickson said.

The Continuum of Care Program is community based and open to all residents of the U.P. who are infected with the HIV virus or their families, according to the Marquette County website. It offers a broad spectrum of outpatient services to HIV infected individuals throughout the region.

“The goals of the program include financial assistance for early medical intervention, maintenance of optimal health, and access to support services. Clients are active members in the team approach to care,” the site states.

HIV education and risk reduction continue to be an integral part of prevention efforts, Fredrickson said.

Fredrickson said the uptick in HIV positive individuals in the U.P. might be due to better testing.

“Sometimes we lag behind … due to this being a rural area,” she said.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a total of 15,629 people were estimated to be living with HIV in Michigan as of January.

Medical advances have led to a reduced mortality rate worldwide Fredrickson said, but that should not take away from the urgent need for continued education.

“It is not going away,” she said. “It is a manageable disease because of good care and prevention, but it gets less attention. Less people are dying, people are living longer and healthier lives. But there is still not enough attention on education or prevention.”

The stigma surrounding HIV still exists, Fredrickson said, which further adds to the need for attention to the subject.

“I have had clients that have been refused medical care because they are HIV positive in the last year,” Fredrickson said, “so it still happens.”

Getting the test is the best way identify HIV in an individual and begin treatment, she said.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control) actually recommends that everyone from the age of 13 to 64 be tested at least once,” Fredrickson said, “And more often if you have risk factors.”

According to CDC research with early detection, treatment and adherence to antiretroviral therapy, “there is practically no possibility of a person transmitting the disease to sexual partners.”

Most insurance plans cover the test in some way, and if a test cannot be obtained at the doctor’s office, the Marquette County Health Department also offers it, Fredrickson said.

“The test is free, and it’s a rapid test.” she said. “We can get the results in 20 minutes.”

The bottom line, Fredrickson said, is public awareness should not stop and start with World AIDS Day.

“We need to keep talking about it,” Fredrickson said. “And the help is out there, all they have to do is call.”

Fredrickson is generally available to answer questions about the Continuum of Care Program or HIV testing during Marquette County Health Department hours by calling 906-475-7651.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.