World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.
Some media outlets call World AIDS Day a celebration, but it is anything but that. It is more of an observation, not a celebration. The World Health Organization indicated that since 2000, 38.1 million people have become infected with HIV and 25.3 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.
In the USA, since the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, 659,000 people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. Approximately 125,051 of those deaths were from Latinos. That's nothing to celebrate.
The Latino Commission on AIDS reported in October 2015 in its annual report that despite current HIV testing and prevention campaigns in the US, the HIV epidemic disproportionately impacts Latinos. To make matters worse, Latinos are at a much higher risk of not being diagnosed until the infection has begun to cause significant damage. Earlier diagnosis leads to earlier treatment which can help reduce the amount of life-threatening illnesses and ultimately avoid death from AIDS and HIV-related illnesses.
Why aren't Latinos seeking screening and treatment sooner? Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS stigma hits our community hard. It is this stigma that impacts the willingness to get screened for the virus. The sad reality is that fear and shame can ultimately lead to death from a disease which, if caught earlier, could have been a treatable condition.
We must end the stigma and strive to break down the walls that divide us. A lot of progress has been made in treatment, but not so much in treating the mindsets that force many to live in hiding and fear of the opinion of their peers.
In North East L.A., Free and confidential HIV testing is available onsite at The Wall Las Memorias Project located in the office behind the All Saint's Episcopal Church in Highland Park at 5619 Monte Vista St, Los Angeles, CA 90042.
Every year on World AIDS Day, The Wall Las Memorias hosts Noche de Las Memorias at the Las Memorias AIDS Monument in Lincoln Park (yes, the first U.S. monument to those lost to AIDS is here in Lincoln Heights) to remember & honor those lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The event is an annual tradition in its 22nd year which brings together community members from across Los Angeles for an evening of reflection and to witness more than 1,000 luminaries light up Lincoln Park in honor of those who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS. This year's event will include live music, inspirational speakers, remembrance & prayer. New names will also be revealed on the Las Memorias AIDS Monument in a special procession.