FORT MYERS, Fla.- Today marks the 23rd Annual World AIDS Day.
Currently, more than 56,000 Americans are newly infected each year. While much has been done in the last two decades to create awareness and slow the spread of the disease, recent changes in florida are making living with HIV and AIDS even more challenging for patients.
The theme for this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." That's zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. For those living with the disease, that's their mission, all year round.
"When you go ahead, and say I know I'm HIV positive, then you can be better. You can take care of yourself."
Keisha is open about living with HIV, but she's asked that we not show her face or use her last name to respect her family, her loved ones who have supported her since she tested positive for HIV in 1985. A time when a positive result carried a negative stigma.
"People thought that HIV and AIDS was a death sentence, but now you can live with it, and now it's true. If you want to take care of yourself, and be really good about taking the medication, it's not a problem," Keisha said.
Keisha credits the Bob Raushenberg Center with keeping her healthy and happy. The center in Fort Myers provides food, support and medications to those living with HIV or AIDS, but getting the needed drugs has been a challenge recently.
"People who apply for AIDS drug assistance program are put on waiting lists, irrespective of their status, so if you're really sick, you might not get them. This is awful. It's unacceptable," said Dr. Bob Schwartz.
Obtaining meds has become slightly more difficult for some now that 13 state-run pharmacies were shut down, including one in Lee and another in Collier counties. At the Lee County Health Department, they offer free rapid testing. In Collier county, rapid testing is available at the Health Department today and tomorrow.
ICAN, the Island Coast AIDS Network is hosting a concert and walk in honor of World AIDS Day. That's planned for tomorrow at 4:30 at Centennial Park in Fort Myers.