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Does anybody care about AIDS anymore?

This year marks 30 years since the first official documentation of AIDS in the United States. People living with HIV or AIDS or involved with the cause in Syracuse share their thoughts on what has become of this disease nowadays.

Less activism, less media coverage, and AIDS patients looking healthy. Everything seems to indicate that AIDS is a disease of the past or belonging to a third-world country.

“People have become complacent. Now, the general consensus is that I’ll just take a pill and I’ll be fine,” said Joe Carpenter, who has been living with HIV for the last 28 years.

Video: Meet Joe Carpenter, a 60-year-old Syracuse contractor, who has been HIV-positive since 1983.

Sunday is the 30th anniversary of the first official case of AIDS in the United States. Several cities, including Syracuse, are holding events and marches commemorating the progress of HIV and AIDS research, and the people the sicknesses have affected. People’s perception of AIDS might have changed over the years but HIV infections in the U.S haven’t decreased, and the stats according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are telling:

  • More than 1 million people are infected with HIV in the U.S.
  • Of those, one in five hasn’t been tested and thus are unaware of his or her infection.
  • Gay males are still the group most affected by the virus.
  • Looking at ethnicity, the African-American community has become a growing concern as they represent about half the HIV population.

For Carpenter, the pharmaceutical industry has played an important role in the misperceptions people have of AIDS.

“Drugs companies don’t help with those adds with people climbing mountains and riding bicycles. It is not the picnic everybody thinks it is,” he said.

New HIV treatments do help people to live longer but side effects are still very common.

“Now people are dying of organ failures caused by those toxic drugs that control the virus,” said Mary Doody, director of volunteer services at AIDS Community Resources.

AIDS activism has also lost weight over the years. AIDS is not a cause that gathers the crowds anymore.

“You had all this energy at the beginning and you have nothing now,” said AIDS activist Michael Casler.

Casler wishes sometimes to take a break, but said there is no one in the younger generation to take over.

“I have been doing this for 30 years. I am also tired but there is nobody out there to do it,” he said.

However, the same younger generation has become a growing concern in Onondaga County. A recent report shows that, in 2010, nine people aged 13 to 25 were diagnosed with HIV. In response, the county has launched a new Facebook campaign called “One Decision” to raise AIDS awareness among young people. The social media aspect of the campaign was key, as the Internet is also part of the problem, said Dinae Rothermel, director of disease control at the Onondaga County Health Department.

“Internet has done a lot," she said. "People have the ability to meet individuals that they ordinarily wouldn't have access to. There are many people that report anonymous partners that they met on online sites. Anonymous sex is dangerous and it makes it very difficult to track partners."

Whether it is because of the Internet, complaisance or lack of education, AIDS is still out there and, for Carpenter, the future is not promising.

“Right now, it’s going to continue. There is not enough people having safe sex and too many people that don’t know they are infected,” he said.

<>Meet Joe Carpenter

Joe Carpenter is 60 years old and has lived with HIV for about 3 decades.


HIV infections among young adults

In 2008, the CDC estimated that there were 5,518 people aged 20 to 24 diagnosed with HIV in the United States. The overall rate was 37 per 100,000 people.

With the exception of New York, the rates of HIV among young adults were highest in the South. Georgia (81.3), Florida (64.9), and Mississippi (59) are the states most affected by HIV.

This geographical variation shows a change in the HIV epidemic. AIDS, which was once concentrated in the gay populations on the East and West Coasts is now affecting other communities such as the African-American and Latino populations in the South. In 2009, half of the people diagnosed with HIV lived in the South while the region is only home to a third of the population.

According to a report published in 2010 by Human Rights Watch, various factors explain this evolution. Poverty, homophobia, racism, focus on abstinence-based education, criminalization of HIV exposure, and lack of access to health care are among those factors.

This evolution also shows the complexity of fighting the HIV infection as the disease embraces not only health related issues but also religion, stereotypes, education, and politics.

Note: In the map below, data was not available for states that are not shaded.


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