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World AIDS Day sheds light on disease
Health advice
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A public information campaign promoting HIV testing in the United States recently won the 2008 National Public Service Announcements Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Created by the Kaiser Family Foundation, HBO, the National Basketball Association and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, the winning PSA encourages viewers to get tested using famous people in a spectular promotion.
Produced by hip-hop legend Doug E. Fresh, the PSA features Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx and stars from the NBA.
This partnership — while unusual — is not atypical of the entertainment industry. It frequently endorses and sponsors educational activities and events in memory of their own friends and family members who've died from AIDS. Hollywood and the U.S. entertainment industry sponsor and raise millions of dollars each year for research and HIV/AIDS educational campaigns.
The U.S. is the world's largest donor of AIDS-related funding and yet we're facing a major, ongoing AIDS epidemic ourselves. And this epidemic shows little sign of abating. HIV/AIDS statistics are not improving ­— in the world or in the U.S.
Since 1981, more than 25 million people worldwide have died from AIDS, and the number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to 33 million today. Young people under the age of 25 account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide and last year more than 2 1/2 million adults and children became infected with HIV while 2 million deaths resulted from AIDS. And this was despite recent improvements in the access to antiretroviral medical treatments.
Among all industrialised countries in the world, America is home to the largest number of people living with HIV. In the U.S., more than half a million people have died of AIDS — the equivalent of the entire population of Las Vegas. There are currently more than 1 million people living with HIV and AIDS in America, and around a fifth of these are unaware of their infection, posing a high risk of disease transmission.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 55,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV every year. African-Americans are especially impacted, representing nearly half of all new infections, while representing just 12 percent of the U.S. population. Many Americans believe that AIDS is an "overseas" or an "African" problem, rather than something that directly affects us. And while it's true that infection rates have declined among injecting drug users, there has been an alarming increase in HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men.
As of 2006, Georgia has the eighth-highest AIDS rate in the nation, with 79 percent of Georgians diagnosed with HIV being African-American and one-third being between the ages of 20-29.  The CDC reports that in 2007 there were 32,740 Georgians living with HIV/AIDS, which represents a 27 percent increase since 2004.
Since there is still not a cure for HIV/AIDS, prevention remains the key. Listed below are ways HIV can be contracted;
Sex: Whatever your sexuality, if you have vaginal or anal sex with someone who has HIV, and you don't use a condom, you can become infected with HIV. Oral sex without a condom also carries a risk of HIV and other infections.
Sharing needles: If you share needles or other drug injecting equipment that contains traces of HIV-infected blood, you can become infected with HIV.
Mother to baby: If a pregnant woman has HIV, she can pass it on to her child in three ways: during pregnancy, during birth, or through breastfeeding. But there are proven steps mothers can take to reduce the possibility of their unborn child contracting HIV.
Infected blood: You can become infected with HIV by receiving infected blood, blood products or donated organs as part of medical treatment.  
The theme for World AIDS Day 2008, which was Dec. 1, was “leadership.” This theme is being promoted with the campaigning slogan, “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” Leadership was selected as the theme for World AIDS Day to encourage leaders at all levels to stop AIDS. The theme empowers everyone — from individuals to organisations to governments — to lead in the response to AIDS.
If there is the slightest chance that you may have contracted AIDS, please get tested. Your life — and quality of life — may depend on early diagnosis and treatment of this disease. Denial could kill you as well as place those you love at risk.

Ratcliffe is the public information officer for the Liberty County Health Department.
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