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Testing, awareness part of World AIDS Day

by MAUREEN DOLAN
Staff Writer | November 30, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Get tested, get educated, reflect, and wear red.

Those are some of the things local AIDS prevention and treatment agencies hope people will do to mark Wednesday's celebration of World AIDS Day.

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "universal access and human rights."

"Access to HIV treatment and access to prevention methods are basic human rights," said Dani Clarkson, director of the North idaho AIDS Coalition.

The coalition and Panhandle Health District are making getting checked for the infection easy by offering free HIV testing throughout the week.

The coalition - a nonprofit, community-based agency that provides care, prevention and advocacy for people with HIV or AIDS in the five northern counties - is also holding an awareness event Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Human Rights Education Institute,

The hour-long program is free and open to the public, and will feature music, stories from people living with HIV, and a candle lighting and vigil.

In North Idaho, accessing treatment and prevention methods can be challenging, Clarkson said, although the situation in North Idaho is better than it is in many other places throughout the world, where no services are available.

The cost of HIV/AIDS medication in this region is roughly $300 to $8,000 per month, and there are few heath care providers who treat the disease.

"We have to send most of our clients to Spokane," Clarkson said.

Of greater concern to Clarkson are some new trends they have witnessed in the last few years.

"All of a sudden some people are testing very late. I mean they're getting tested and dying in two weeks," Clarkson said. "It's kind of a scary thing because people aren't being tested in time."

Clarkson believes it is because the public has become complacent, with many people unaware that HIV/AIDS is still affecting people.

A 2009 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation confirmed Clarkson's thoughts. Researchers found that the sense of urgency about HIV/AIDS as a national health problem has declined in the U.S. Since 1995, the percentage of people who consider the infection and disease a major national health issue has dropped from 44 percent to just 6 percent.

That is dangerous, Clarkson said, because with early detection, HIV infection is treatable, and while not curable, it is not a death sentence.

Last March there were 143 people living in the five northern counties with HIV or AIDS out of a total of 1,230 people with HIV or AIDS living in the state.

Clarkson said her agency received eight new clients in the past two months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS. About 20 percent of those people are unaware of the infection, which is a risk to them and others. The CDC recommends routine HIV screening for adults and adolescents.

HIV symptoms often aren't apparent for many years after the infection. Testing is the only way to know about an infection for certain. The rapid HIV test is similar to a pregnancy test, using blood instead of urine.

"Studies show people who know they're HIV-positive take more precautions," said Lisa Cramer, who coordinates Panhandle Health District's sexually transmitted disease and HIV program. "We want the HIV rate to go down."

• Free HIV testing is available by appointment this week at the North Idaho AIDS Coalition office in Coeur d'Alene, 2201 Government Way, Suite L, 665-1448.

• The coalition is also offering free testing Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at North Idaho College.

• Panhandle Health District will offer free testing by appointment at the following health district offices on the following dates:

Dec. 1 - Hayden, 8500 N. Atlas Rd., 415-5270, and

Dec. 1 - St. Maries, 137 N. 8th, 245-4556

Dec. 2, 3 - Sandpoint, 1020 Michigan, 263-5159

Dec. 8 - Bonners Ferry, 7402 N. Caribou, 267-5558

Dec. 8 - Kellogg, 114 Riverside, 786-7474

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