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DULUTH - In part two of our special report, FOX 21's Dan Hanger talks with top Minnesota health officials who are focusing on reducing stigma around HIV to help cut down on new infections.
Whether it's taking the message to Washington D.C. or to people living in your own hometown, HIV can affect us all with more than 1 million people living with the disease in the U.S. and roughly 50,000 new cases reported each year.
"It was 1990. I knew the person I had been with was HIV positive. I went to pick up the test results and the answer was yes, and I was like, ok, well, what is HIV, or do I have to tell people that I have AIDS," said Annie Elmer, a HIV positive advocate. "I was ignorant."
But that ignorance, stigma, shame and even discrimination around HIV, is something Minnesota health officials are working hard to change in hopes of preventing new cases of the virus.
"Normalize the conversation rather than have it be based in fear," said Bill Tiedemann, exec. director at Minnesota Aids Project.
Tiedemann says the biggest message he has today is to talk about it.He says while certain groups of people are at higher risk for contracting HIVE, it's wrong to think you're immune.
"It's not a gay disease. Historically, HIV has been viewed as a gay disease. We're all at risk for HIV. If we have high-risk behavior, we could be infected with HIV," Tiedemann said.
Experts believe our young people are losing focus that HIV is still a problem, and if they get it, they'll just take a couple pills and be done with it.Teidemann says people don't realize how one's life is still flipped upside down emotionally, physically and psychologically.
"A huge side effect is disclosing your status to other individuals, and that both creates stigma and discrimination internally and externally," Tiedemann said."People don't think about that part. They just think about it's not a death sentence so who cares. So that's, to me, the part of the story that I want people to understand," Elmer said.
It's been a long battle against one tough public health concern, but a battle the people in this story are hoping to finally end with the help of each one of us.
"Do I hope for an end? We actually hope for an end very soon -- although a vaccine looks many years away -- but we do have the tools today to decrease the incidents of HIV in our community," Tiedemann said.