Message for this year's World AIDS Day: Know your status

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - The theme of this year's World AIDS Day Saturday is know your status.

According to the Health Equity Alliance in Bangor, 40 million people worldwide have died from AIDS since 1981.

About 37 million people are currently living with HIV

While there have been improvements in treatment, AIDS still claims two million lives each year, making education a major priority.

"This is actually the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day," said Andrea Littlefield of the Health Equity Alliance.

Littlefield said a worldwide recognized day was important because it was a time when many didn't know what the disease was or how it was contracted.

"At that time, it was kind of a death sentence because there wasn't a lot of treatment for it, and no one really knew how to prevent it," Littlefield said.

Three decades later, many strides have been made.

"In fact some of the people who were first diagnosed back in the 80s are still patients of ours and doing really well," Littlefield said. "We've come a long way as far as anti-virals and medications that can be used to stop the spread of it. "

While there's still no cure, staying consistent with medication is key to living a live virtually free of HIV.

"If you're on your medications all the time, basically you can't transmit the disease. If you take a test, you won't see any of the HIV antibodies, either. You're undetectable. You're untransmittable, which is great," Littlefield said.

But she sayaid we're still not out of the woods.

"I think we still have a long way to go. There's a lot of stigma that's still out there surrounding HIV and AIDS. People tend to forget that there are still survivors and there are still people who are fighting this disease," Littlefield said.

That's why this year's theme is "Know Your Status," which can be found out with a quick test.

"Connecting you with care immediately after the positive test is important, and we have people right here in house to take that over," Littlefield said. "30 years ago, it took two weeks to find out the results of your test. Today, 20 minutes.

"It isn't the way it used to be. We still have a long ways to go. I mean, it would be great if we could cure this and find ways to cure it, but at least people know that they can have a quality of life."

Health Equity Alliance will open their offices on Hancock Street Saturday morning for a ten o'clock brunch to celebrate world aids day.

There will be a ceremony to honor those who have been lost to aids.

Free testing will also be available.