World AIDS Day observed in Chicago area

December 1, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Illinois ranks seventh among states for the number of AIDS cases.

Thursday's early morning giveaway was a part of an effort by the city's department of public health to re-energize HIV prevention strategy. It was one of the many ways Chicagoland commemorated World AIDS Day.

Red ribbons serve as tokens of remembrance to those lost in the fight on this World AIDS Day.

Thursday morning, at a West Side testing and treatment center, those who have survived were also celebrated. After living with the disease for nearly three decades, Joy Morris has become a Chicagoland HIV advocate and activist. She is spearheading an effort for a 2012 World AIDS Day telethon.

"I'm grateful to be alive today, 30 years into this epidemic, doing God's will and God's work," said Morris.

Every year since 1988, December 1 is dedicated to raising awareness about the disease in hopes of one day eliminating it.

"When this happened to me I thought, 'Well, I guess this not just a gay disease,' " said Joann Montes.

But for Arick Buckles it is a time to rededicate himself to the ongoing battle against the virus.

"World AIDS Day is every day I wake up," said Buckles.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates that 33 million adults and 2.5 million children are living with HIV worldwide, resulting in the theme of "Getting to Zero."

"We were able to pass a bipartisan budget agreement that preserves funding for important programs like HIV prevent as well as AIDS treatment," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

According to the governor's office, Illinois has the 7th highest number of AIDS cases in the nation, with just over 38,000 cases reported since 1981 -- with half of those cases being African-American. Of all the Illinois residents diagnosed since then, more than half have died.

"God calls us to teach and lead by teaching and informing people in terms of how to live," said Sylvia Oglesby, Englewood United Methodists Church.

And, although the disease may no longer be a death sentence, the fight is still not over.

"The single most important thing I can say is get tested," said Dr. Robert Weinstein, infectious disease specialist.

Officials say one in five people don't even know they are infected. So that remains key. They say the number of people with HIV who acquire AIDS has decreased over time because of advances in medical care and anti-retroviral therapy. Still, thousands of people still die of AIDS each year

Free screenings and counseling are available at Chicago-area universities, and the Chicago Dept. of Public Health are be distributing 20,000 free condoms at CTA stations Thursday.

More information on local World AIDS Day activities can be found at the Chicago of Public Health's website.

At the White House in Washington, a red ribbon was on display to mark the day, and President Obama was scheduled to take part in a panel discussion at George Washington University.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush joined via satellite.

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