June marks 30 years since the first AIDS case

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - June 5,  marks 30 years since the first official report of the HIV virus.

It is an epidemic that spread fast, with no real solution to stop it. Today the U.S. has made great medical advances in treating those affected but there is still a long way to go.

30 years ago it was labeled as a death sentence. Those effected were given six months to live, but with new research, new treatments have evolved, and the life expectancy of an HIV/AIDS patient is years instead of months.

Tonya Green, Hattiesburg Family Health Center Director of Social Services said,  "I am now seeing patients who have been living with the virus now for 20 years plus. That's because of the HIV medications. We now have new research to tell us how to adequately treat our patients with HIV as well as if they are AIDS defined."

Green said one thing that hasn't been quite as successful is eliminating the stigma attached to it.

"We just don't deal with the illness, We also have to deal with the other psycho social factors that go along with it. We still have patients who are being discriminated against in  their employment as well as churches. We hear stories from patients that when they do disclose their HIV status they are asked to leave their church or place of worship."

With every step forward there's still some regression. Outreach Coordinator for the Hattiesburg AIDS Coalition Tony Jones said, "One in five people living with HIV is unaware of their infection."

"Thirty years ago when the first cases were found, it was called gay related immune deficiency or grid. That quickly changed, because they realized it doesn't just attack the gay population. HIV does not discriminate."

For those who are afraid of contracting it and those who possibly have it, it's the fear of the unknown.

"The statistics show that especially in Mississippi we have more than 9,000 patients infected with HIV but only half are in care. So, we still have a lot of patients that are HIV infected and have not accessed services. Those are the patients that we need to really target and get into treatment."

Both Green and Jones said new treatments have created hope for those infected and preventative education is the next best thing to a vaccine.

On June 24,  The first annual "Block Party For Life" will be held at Kamper Park in Hattiesburg, in commemoration of National HIV Testing Day.

The block party is from 4p.m. to 8p.m. hosted by the AIDS Coalition.

There will be free HIV testing, food, music, seminars and other informational tools.

The public is encouraged to attend this free event.