Advocates stress getting tested as HIV numbers in Baton Rouge improve

Advocates stress getting tested as HIV numbers in Baton Rouge improve
Eugene Collins is with the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, and says this is progress (Source: WAFB)
Eugene Collins is with the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, and says this is progress (Source: WAFB)
Isaac Gilliard has lived with HIV for the last 13 years (Source: WAFB)
Isaac Gilliard has lived with HIV for the last 13 years (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - New data released by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) indicate the number of new cases of HIV in the Capital City are the lowest in two decades.

Isaac Gilliard has lived with HIV for the last 13 years and he remembers hearing the word that changed his life forever. Long thought of as a death sentence, he admits hearing the news was not easy. "It was positive," Gilliard said. "The testing counselor actually cried, which actually made me think I was going to die because of the drama."

Rather than dwell on the diagnosis, instead, he was empowered to learn as much as he could in order to educate others.

"I didn't get tested and I didn't use condoms. That's it right there," he said. "I was at the highest risk and put myself in the position without even knowing it."

The biggest challenge, he says, is not managing the virus, but facing judgment and negative stereotypes from others. "It affects how people treat us and how they think. They don't want to be by us and they don't want to talk to us, which in actuality, it doesn't work that way," said Gilliard. "Unless I'm sexually involved with you or use needles after you, I can't infect you."

Right now there are 3,853 people in Baton Rouge living with HIV, according to AIDSVu website. Chances are many people could have the virus and not even know it, but there is good news. Last year, the Capital City saw just 173 new cases of HIV, which is the lowest number in more than two decades.

Eugene Collins with the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two (HAART), Inc. calls it progress, but he believes there's still a lot of work to be done. He says that work begins with communication.

Anyone interested in getting tested or finding out more about HAART can click here.

"The organizations are doing a phenomenal job," said Collins. "We need to make the talk about HIV routine though. It needs to be talked about at the kitchen table with your children. It needs to be brought up. We have to start to break down some of those stigmatizing barriers to make this a routine conversation."

Collins also says it's vital that everyone get tested. He believes knowing their status helps people limit the spread of the virus.

"If you don't, you're actually part of the problem. Get out there, get tested, and know your status."

Collins adds realizing that anyone who is sexually active can be at risk is one of the biggest hurdles to preventing the virus.

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