World AIDS Day educates Iowans - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

World AIDS Day educates Iowans

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

In 1988 the World Health Organization declared Dec. 1, as World AIDS Day to promote social tolerance and greater awareness of HIV and AIDS. Hundreds of people across Iowa plan to use this day to educate others about the every-day struggles of living with HIV and AIDS.

Don, who asked us not to use his last name, may not look like he is fighting a life threatening virus, but he is.

"I lived in Atlanta, Georgia 12 years ago and contracted it there," Don said.

Don contracted the HIV virus from a partner and found out he was HIV positive just three years ago. He was working in Georgia when he got sick. He went to the hospital and was tested.

"I was really devastated and I thought the world was going to end. I didn't want to live no more. My biggest fear was telling my family," Don said.

He tried for the longest time to hide it from his family, but finally told them.

"I have a great support system now that my family knows," Don said.

Don isn't alone when it comes to living with HIV. Hundreds of people across Iowa have HIV or AIDS.

"Just in 2011 we have served 98 families," CASS Manager Elizabeth Wilson said.

Wilson is a case manager with CASS or Cedar Aids Support System. CASS helps people in the area who are living with HIV or AIDS financially and emotionally.

"People can come to us and know they are accepted and respected. They are treated as valuable worthy human beings and that's really important to us to help take away that stigma that people live with everyday," Wilson said.

"I think that's the problem with today, people who look at people with HIV and think oh my goodness I can't touch that person or I don't want to talk to that person," Don said. "Some of them think if I sit next to them I am going to catch something and it's not about that. We are just like everyone else."

Health advocates say it's important for everyone to get tested for HIV. According to CASS, it's estimated that 25% of people infected in Iowa don't know it.

Northeast Iowa agencies and organizations have come together to host an event on Dec. 1, to bring awareness about the agencies and services available. The event will take place at Crossroads Center Mall from 5-7 p.m.

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