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AIDS remains a silent killer

Local awareness week highlights disease not much in the spotlight

Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the classic-rock band Queen, was 45 when he died of complications from AIDS.

American rapper and hip-hop artist Eazy-E was 31 when he died of complications from AIDS.

Supermodel Gia Carangi was 26 when she died of complications from AIDS.

Though as a nation, we have made great strides in the treatment and prevention of the often-misunderstood disease, proponents are still pushing for AIDS awareness and research.

“As AIDS and HIV have fallen off of the front page, we are starting to see a rise in cases again across the nation,” said Greg Weiss, co-coordinator of the 17th annual AIDS Awareness Benefit. The benefit is being put on by the Four Corners Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity, or 4cGLAD, a volunteer-based organization.

La Plata County will commemorate the 17th annual AIDS Awareness Week through Saturday. It got a jump-start Monday with the hanging of a 96-panel quilt, displayed in the Durango Public Library, with the names of people who have died from the disease. A ceremony took place Tuesday with a reading of those names.

“They are beautiful stories of people, of lives,” said Barbara Balaguer, chairwoman of 4cGLAD.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is made up of about 5,000 panels, and it is the largest single piece of folk art in the country, she said.

The quilt is stored with the Names Project Foundation in Atlanta. Portions of the quilt can be requested for awareness events such as this week’s local occasion. Also, one can request a specific panel of a loved one, friend or neighbor. Visit www.aidsquilt.org for information on how to make or request a panel.

The purpose of the quilt is to continue to raise awareness and to remember those who were loved and lost. It’s a way to celebrate their lives, Balaguer said.

A newer component

Local organizers introduced the 5-kilometer run and a 1.6-kilometer walk at last year’s benefit.

Balaguer said the idea came from a group of volunteers who decided it was important to raise awareness across a broader spectrum. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, HIV/AIDS was referred to as a “gay-man’s disease,” Balaguer said. The organization found it important to promote a healthful lifestyle with La Plata County families.

Volunteers will be available during the walk/run to hand out educational material about HIV/AIDS.

The most important goal, Balaguer said, is to bring awareness to a disease that many people are afraid to learn about, and for people to understand that it doesn’t affect just members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“It’s an entirely preventable disease,” she said.

Who’s at risk

In the fourth quarter of 2012, Colorado HIV Surveillance Report issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 33 people were presumed living in La Plata County with HIV or AIDS.

Weiss said a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. teenagers ages 12 to 17 found that they did not know that HIV was sexually transmitted. A majority of those respondents did not believe they were at risk of being infected.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that people ages 13 to 24 make up about 1 in 4 new HIV infections in the United States, and about 60 percent of those infected do not know they have the disease.

Additionally, rural Colorado has shown an increase in the number of people infected with HIV in part because of the rising use of intravenous drugs, according to the state department of health. However, sexual contact is still the primary method of transmission.

Money raised from the benefit will be used for HIV/AIDS-education programs in the Four Corners and to help those infected with HIV.

“The main thing is that we want to bring awareness that HIV and AIDS still exist,” Weiss said.

vguthrie@durangoherald.com

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