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‘Celebration of Life’ event to mark World AIDS Day

By Staff | Dec 2, 2008

The Island Coast AIDS Network in Fort Myers is joining millions of others across the world in celebrating World AIDS Day. ICAN has supported AIDS awareness and education in Southwest Florida for the last 22 years and is hosting a “Celebration of Life” today.
HIV is a sexually transmitted virus that develops into AIDS, a condition where the immune system is weakened to a point where it can no longer fight off simple infections. According to Melissa Simontis, spokesperson for ICAN, there are approximately 3,000 people living with HIV in Southwest Florida.
But, that is only the documented cases.
Many people living with HIV do not know they have it, showing symptoms that resemble the flu or displaying no symptoms at all. But, a simple test can determine whether someone is infected.
“It only costs a couple of dollars to prevent an HIV infection,” said Simontis. “Once diagnosed, it is $700,000 to treat over a lifetime. If you are a taxpayer you are affected because a lot of taxpayer dollars go into providing support and medications.”
When the virus received national attention in the late 1980s, many thought it only existed in the homosexual community. Health officials later pointed out that anyone can contract the virus, and some recent statistics have indicated that infection rates are growing in the senior citizen community, said Simontis.
“We are seeing an increase in new HIV infections in different populations,” she said. “It is something that affects everyone.”
The Celebration of Life, from noon-2 p.m. at Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers, is to remember those who have died from AIDS and raise awareness for testing. World AIDS Day is typically celebrated Dec. 1. Today’s event will feature free food from Sonny’s BBQ and various raffles throughout the afternoon.
“It’s to reflect upon those who lost their battle to AIDS and those who are continuing the fight, as well as the progress and changes that have happened over the year,” said Simontis.
Residents can schedule an HIV test during the celebration and donate to assist ICAN’s programs and food pantry. While money and services are accepted, the organization will accept food and personal hygiene items to go in the Betsy Newman Client Food Pantry.
Free and confidential HIV testing is available by calling Dr. Peter Bright at 464-7398. Simontis said residents will be given an antibody test with a cotton swab, rather than a traditional blood test.
The spreading of HIV and AIDS is a global issue, especially in some developing countries that do not have the resources for widespread testing or treatment. In 2007, only 31 percent of patients in lower income countries had access to treatment, according to the World AIDS Day campaign.
This year’s campaign theme is “Leadership,” intended to remind leaders across the world to spearhead policy and fund programs to end the spread of the virus.
For more information, visit: www.icanswfl.org.