Education key in AIDS battle

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- Continued education on the subject of HIV/AIDS is what it will take to battle the illness in the populations it most commonly affects.

That is the message Dr. Craig Smith of Infectious Diseases Consultants of Southwest Georgia conveyed in his lecture on HIV/AIDS at the Dougherty County Health Department Friday.

In his presentation, Smith went over the basic facts of HIV/AIDS, such as the prevalence of the disease, how it's transmitted and how it's treated.

Smith said that, from a technical standpoint, being HIV-positive means the virus that causes the condition is in the body. Having AIDS means a person is sick from the virus. However, it doesn't necessarily work that way all the time.

"In reality, you go back and forth," he explained.

In regard to educating population segments, Smith emphasized that young black women, who account for nearly half of the cases in the United States, need it the most.

"It wasn't until last year that the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said we needed more education in the black community," he said. "We don't do a huge amount of education; we don't talk much about this.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know this is a big problem."

His presentation also touched on the social stigma attached to the disease.

"In reality, HIV is just a disease," he said. "It's no different than a smoker getting emphysema. Nobody goes out to get it.

"HIV has a social stigma. That stigma needs to be left out."

HIV/AIDS is considered to be a public health issue in Southwest Georgia, an area that has one of the highest incident rates in comparison to other parts of the state, Smith said.

"We have plenty of patients down here," he said. "We have more than enough people."

Part of the reason HIV/AIDS may have lost its significance over the years is because people tend to not think about it as much, Smith said.

"It's kind of like an HIV-fatigue," he said.

In 2008, a total of 33.4 million adults and children worldwide were recorded has having HIV, with the majority of cases concentrated in Africa. In the same year, there were 3 million new cases. In the United States, roughly 1 million people live with the disease, 25 percent of whom don't know they are infected.

The time between exposure to the virus and becoming sick from the virus can be up to 10 years, which makes the fact that many people don't know they have it all the more dangerous, Smith said.

"Those that don't know they have it can still be passing it around," he said. "Just because you have it doesn't mean you are sick every day."

In Georgia, the incident rate was at 19.7 per 100,000 in 2007, Smith added.

Some of the risk factors for transmission of HIV include sexual contact with someone who is infected and exposure of blood to the virus. It can't be contracted via casual physical contact, Smith stressed.

There were 50-60 people who attended Friday's lecture. In the eyes of Vamella Lovett, the health department's adult health director, that is considered a win in promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in the community.

"I think it went very well," she said. "I hope the individuals (who attended the session) will go out and be motivated to promote education."

The lecture was held as part of a monthly series the Dougherty County Health Department is hosting on public health-related issues. The topic

for January will likely be eye health, Lovett said.