Raising awareness on World AIDS Day

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Sunday, Dec. 1 marked World AIDS Day, an international day dedicated to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

In Wisconsin, nonprofit organizations and health officials are doing their part to spread the word.

"Sometimes people say, 'Is that still a thing?' And yes, it definitely is," said Chris Chapman, who is part of UW Health's HIV/AIDS Comprehensive Care Program.

Chapman works at UW Health's HIV clinic, and raising awareness is a big part of her job. She said in the fight against the disease, things have gotten better.

"The new diagnosis rate has remained stable over at least the past decade," Chapman said.

However, there are some worrying trends.

"A trend that's been going on for sometime is an increase in infections, among new diagnoses among young people and particularly among communities of color," Chapman explained.

The Wisconsin Department of Health estimates that in 2018, around 8,500 people were living with HIV in Wisconsin. Out of those, about 1,300 are likely undiagnosed.

"If there are people out there that are living with HIV, they're not alone," Chapman said.

Chapman added it can be hard to talk about HIV/AIDS because of stigma around the disease.

"Some people are scared to reveal their status to their close family members, their partners, their friends," she explained.

Local groups are doing their part to combat the stigma. Nonprofit group AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin will change its name to Vivent Health. The group said they hope this will invite more people to use their services.

"Having HIV or AIDS on the door or on a title of an organization doesn't always mean people are going to come to that organization for care or services because of the stigma," said Dan Guinn, vice president of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

Chapman and Guinn both said they want people to know HIV/AIDS is still an issue, but it is manageable and possible to prevent.

"The good news is people are living and thriving with HIV and living long and healthy lives," Chapman said.

Chapman said the easiest thing people can do to help stop the spread of the disease is to get tested for HIV and know their status. This can help people decide to take preventive measures or seek treatment if they are HIV positive.

To further spread awareness about HIV/AIDS, UW Health is hosting an event Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Goodman Community Center. People living with HIV/AIDS will share their stories with the audience. The event starts at 5:30 p.m.