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Prevention, education targeted for luncheon

According to health statistics, there are more than one million people in the U.S. who are living with HIV and more than 500,000 have died from the virus. As of Oct. 1, there are 231 cases of HIV/AIDS in Dallas County, and in honor of World AIDS Day, Thursday, one local health agency wants to bring awareness to the disease.

In partnership with The Black Belt HIV Prevention Network, Lowndes County Head Start and Selma AIR, the Dallas County Health Department will hold a World AIDS Day Luncheon and Candlelight Vigil from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. inside its community room. The free event will include guest speakers from across the state, free food and confidential HIV testing.

Janice Robbins, HIV coordinator for the Alabama Department of Public Health area 7, which includes Choctaw, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Sumter, Wilcox and Dallas counties, said Thursday’s event is very important.

“It represents people’s lives who are effected by the virus or who have been infected by it,” Robbins said. “The public will get education and the facts — It’s a very important day.”

Guest speakers include keynote speaker Cynthia Boykins of Mobile, Cedric Wherry of Selma AIR, Sue Jones of Birmingham and Elainer Jones, director of Alabama Department of Education, School Help Services, in Montgomery.

From 1981 to 2007, health statistics show that 21 million have died from AIDS. The local facts, Robbins said, are disheartening.

“It’s a high number because of the population,” Robbins said. “It (the event) gives people an opportunity worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV.

To show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died from AIDS.”

Robbins said it’s also important to dispel the myths about AIDS. “You can’t catch it through hugging or kissing, unless you have a sore in your mouth, eating behind someone or sitting where someone with AIDS has sat,” Robbins said.

Education, Robbins said, is key for those with or without the disease.

“Learn the facts about HIV, secondly they can learn their status by having HIV tests, and thirdly, share knowledge of HIV with someone else,” Robbins said. “If you’re living with AIDS, seek treatment and eat healthy and exercise.”

Robbins encourages those who attend the event to wear a red ribbon.

“Wear a red ribbon to support people living with HIV/AIDS,” Robbins said. “The red ribbon is the international symbol for HIV awareness.”

For more information, contact Robbins at 877-2895.

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