published Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Several local events to mark World AIDS Day

Shelly McGee holds a bundle of red balloons to be released in recognition of those diagnosed with AIDS during a memorial put together by Chattanooga Cares and Greater Than at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  Chattanooga Cares and Greater Than partnered with Walgreens put together a week's worth of events to inform about HIV and AIDs.
Shelly McGee holds a bundle of red balloons to be released in recognition of those diagnosed with AIDS during a memorial put together by Chattanooga Cares and Greater Than at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Chattanooga Cares and Greater Than partnered with Walgreens put together a week's worth of events to inform about HIV and AIDs.
Photo by Jenna Walker.

WORLD AIDS DAY EVENTS

* The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Alumnae Chapter will host a World AIDS Day 2011 Forum at 6 p.m. today. The event will be at Mount Canaan Baptist Church, 2800 N. Chamberlain Ave. For more information, email kyleenoliver@hotmail.com. Chattanooga CARES will offer free HIV/AIDS testing during the event.

* The Chattanooga State Community College Student Government Association will distribute information about HIV/AIDS in the school cafeteria from 1 to 4 p.m. today. Chattanooga CARES will offer free HIV/AIDS testing.

* Greater Than AIDS Gospel Concert is scheduled at the UC Auditorium on UTC's campus at 7 p.m. today. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $5 with student identification and $7 without. Proceeds benefit Chattanooga CARES.

* How Good Is Sex workshop and luncheon facilitated by HIV activist and poet Devin T. Robinson of Atlanta is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at UTC's Multicultural Center. Lunch is free, but seats are limited.

Nearly 1,480 people in Hamilton County have the HIV/AIDS virus and the number is increasing, health officials say.

"People haven't changed their behaviors and that puts them at risk," said Nettie Gerstle, manager of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department's communicable disease control program. "We still have people engage in risky behavior. Most common is unprotected sex."

Gerstle is among local health employees, social workers and AIDS advocacy groups working to increase awareness about AIDS in recognition of World AIDS Day, which is today.

The event's theme for this year and the next five years is "Getting to Zero -- Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS related deaths." The campaign is backed by the United Nations.

AIDS advocacy groups are pushing for greater access to treatment, for more government intervention concerning AIDS, the alleviation of gender discrimination and access to affordable, quality medicines, according to the World AIDS campaign website.

Getting to zero is a challenge locally, according to health department officials.

A total of 1,367 Hamilton County residents had the HIV/AIDS virus in 2008, but the count increased to 1,424 in 2009 and in 2010 the number hit 1,473, officials said.

The East Chattanooga area leads the county in HIV/AIDS cases with 178 people having the virus. The Brainerd area had 163 infected residents, and East Brainerd had 140, according to the health department's latest HIV/AIDS watch report.

But Chattanooga CARES officials caution that residents should not feel immune from the disease simply because they don't live in these communities. Infected people don't always stay in neighborhoods where they live and, when they move, they carry the virus with them, officials said.

"No one is invincible," said local medical social worker Karitsa Mosley. "It's real and it's affecting real people in real life."

Mosley and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Alumnae Chapter are hosting a World AIDS Day forum in the 37406 ZIP code to educate youth about the disease and how to prevent it. The Dr. Betty L. Shabazz Delta Academy and Delta GEMS, school-age girls who participate with the organization, are assisting with the event.

Chattanooga CARES will offer free testing at the forum and those who get tested can learn their results within 20 minutes.

"The goal is to get people tested," said Jerry Evans, assistant director of Chattanooga CARES, a nonprofit focused on educating and preventing AIDS and supporting people who have it. "If they are positive, it is very likely that people can live a normal life span if they start treatment early."

People not knowing their HIV/AIDS status puts them at risk for not getting proper care, and they're also at risk for infecting other people, said Evans, who is also the prevention education program manager at CARES.

Mosley said the disease impacted her after she met a local high school student diagnosed with the virus.

"It struck me that it's not only infecting adults. It's affecting teens. There is no age discrimination with AIDS," she said.

Shateria Smith, 21, doesn't have AIDS, but at age 6 she lost her father to the disease; then her mother died with it when Smith was 11. She watched her mom deteriorate from 150 pounds to just 80 before she died.

Smith and four of her friends, who call themselves the Dream Team, have been organizing activities on UTC's campus all week to commemorate World AIDS Day. They hosted a balloon release Wednesday and will have a gospel concert today to benefit Chattanooga CARES.

"Our goal is to get students more aware of what's going on," said Smith. "If we're aware [of the virus], we can be more active against it."

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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