RICHMOND, VA — It is an event that took place around the world Sunday – World AIDS Day – with a mission of raising awareness about the disease.
In Richmond, red balloons were strung in Carytown with an AIDS religious service taking place at the Metropolitan Community Church Sunday night.
“My brother passed away in 1995, I miss him everyday,” Peggy Holt told CBS 6.
Advocates put an emphasis on education across Richmond Sunday, wanting to curb the number of HIV infections in the city – numbers that Bob Higginson, a physician assistant at VCU’s infectious disease unit, said are on the rise.
“We probably get anywhere between five and ten new patients every month,” Higginson said.
It is estimated 25 thousand Virginians are living with HIV in the Commonwealth.
“If we identify people early in their disease we can get them on medication and get the infection controlled,” Higginson said, commenting on the progress medicine has made with the illness over the last twenty years.
But numbers continue to disproportionately impact African Americans and gay men.
In a recent report by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gay men have reported a twenty percent increase in unproductive sex in the last several years.
For Jay Irvine, a Richmonder who has lived with AIDS since 2004, said that number is unacceptable – encouraging all Virginians – especially gay men – to practice safe sex.
“I think we need to educate more people about the illness,” Irvine said.
” If you don’t then your going to end up with aides like me,” Irvine added.
While World AIDS Day may just be one day, the task of educating Virginians about AIDS now falls on organizations like the Renewal Project, an organization dedicated to not just preventing death but encouraging life.
“HIV is no longer a death sentence,” Rodney Lofton, Executive Director of the Renewal Project, said.