Red scarves bring awareness to national HIV and AIDS awareness week



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In recognition of the national HIV and AIDS awareness week, eight hundred red wrists will be tied to poles and posts in Simcoe County.

Gilbert Center Executive Director Gerry Croteau says there is a lot of stigma and negativity about HIV and that red scarves help raise awareness of a disease that is now considered a chronic condition.

"Forty-seven percent of HIV infections are still among gay men or within the LGBTQ community," said Croteau. "It's important to keep this message and keep people aware that they need to have safe sex."

With approximately 150 clients, the Gilbert Center in Barrie works with people who are HIV positive, part of the trans community, as well as gay men to provide support in social services.

One client is Randy Davis, who was diagnosed with HIV in February 2015. Davis says the medication he takes daily allows him to live his life however he wants.

"I take a pill that is an anti-retroviral therapy that is called. One pill a day and that keeps me healthy, "Davis said. "I take more vitamins every day than I do anti-retroviral drugs"

The pill suppresses the level of the HIV virus in Davis's blood, making it undetectable and sexually non-transmissible. He says the disease can be confusing, which is why he supports such projects as the red scarf.

"These campaigns are extremely important in raising awareness (and) of educating people," Davis said. "It's this fear and ignorance about HIV that causes the stigma that actually prevents people from being tested."

One great message with this year's campaign is for people to be tested and reduce risks. Choteau points out to the public that HIV is now considered a chronic disease, and the more people are aware, the healthier they will be.

"Not knowing your status, not being tested is a risk," Croteau said. "You do not know that you can be HIV positive more than ten years before you even know you are HIV positive."

According to Croteau, in the past, anyone diagnosed with HIV would have taken several pills throughout the day. Today, one pill a day gives those living with the disease a better view of life.

"The side effects are less toxic in the body," Croteau said. "People are more conscious to stay healthier. They work out better. They have better diets, and there is a more positive if you have a perspective on longevity of those. It is no longer a death sentence. "

Red scarves will be left in communities in Simcoe County, including Midland, Orillia and Bracebridge later this week.

World AIDS Day is December 1.

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