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Education remains best defense against HIV/AIDS

Education remains best defense against HIV/AIDS

Two local organizations help battle a virus that hasn’t – despite some appearances – gone away.

While much has been done to minimize the spread of HIV/AIDS in the U.S., the fight is far from over.

And in honor of World AIDS Day, which was Sunday, remember that education remains a top priority, and getting involved is key to eradicating the virus. 

Organizations such as AIDS Services Foundation Orange County and Shanti Orange County are on the forefront of the battle, offering assistance and promoting awareness, education and prevention throughout the county.

“The national messaging campaign is: ‘Getting to Zero: Zero New Infections. Zero Deaths. Zero Discrimination,’” says Philip Yaeger, executive director of AIDS Services Foundation. “HIV is a virus with no vaccine and no cure.  Without any new infections, HIV would run its course and die out as most other viruses do. That’s why it’s important that we work toward ‘zero new infections’ through increased HIV testing and education outreach.”

The most recent figures released by the Orange County Health Care Agency show that 6,876 people in Orange County have been diagnosed with HIV. But the Centers for Disease Control estimates that number could be as much as 20 percent higher, which would include people who are infected but have not yet been diagnosed. 

Last year, people younger than 40 accounted for a shocking 58.4 percent of new infections. These figures demonstrate that just because a generation was raised with knowledge of HIV/AIDS, it is not enough. Education is an ongoing process. 

“Awareness is so important because the phrase ‘silence equals death’ is still true for this disease,” says Yaeger. “The more we talk about HIV, the more we reduce the shame and stigma, the more likely people will get tested and know their status, and the less likely it is that people will transmit the virus.” 

Believing that care is also prevention, AIDS Services Foundation provides nutrition, housing, transportation, education, mental health and family programs.

The group also connects clients to other needed services in the community.  

Shanti Orange County, formed to provide counseling and support to those sick and dying in Orange County, has evolved as the nature of HIV/AIDS has evolved.  The organization today is deeply committed to prevention, education and outreach, and to helping HIV-positive individuals live their lives as fully as possible.

By providing an array of workshops and seminars with up-to-date information, these groups are delivering valuable resources directly to people who need it most. 

From early awareness campaigns for youth, to empowerment seminars for those who are living with or who have loved ones with HIV/AIDS, they are truly moving the needle with their work.

To learn more about how you can support local organizations working on this important issue, visit Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected]

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