December 19, 2011
Some 50 people attended a recent service commemorating World AIDS Day at the Rural AIDS Action Network's headquarters in St. Cloud. RAAN officials say they are worried by the growing number of HIV/AIDS cases they are seeing in the region.
"In rural Minnesota, many individuals are unaware of their HIV infection, and they may be symptom-free for up to a decade, continuing to unknowingly infect others," said RAAN Executive Director Charles Hempeck. "Some people may not take precautions to protect themselves because there's a stereotype that it's mainly a gay men's disease, and it's not."
"People often think of HIV as a gay disease, and it certainly affects a high number of gay and bisexual men, but there's a growing number in Minnesota of women and minorities contracting HIV," Hempeck said.
The statewide nonprofit conducts HIV awareness outreach, including testing, while providing support services to those living with the disease. "We're especially seeing a growing need for services among those of Hispanic origin and African-born individuals, especially down in the southern part of the state," said Hempeck.
The gathering featured a video documenting the first 30 years of HIV/AIDS including the deaths of actor Rock Hudson and teenage activist Ryan White, who would have celebrated his 40th birthday this December. "World AIDS Day is about taking time to remember those folks that have passed due to AIDS and to use that as a catalyst to think about the future and all the positive things that are going around about treatment and prevention of HIV," Hempeck noted.