YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Thursday marks World AIDS Day, and for more than 30 years, people have united on this day. People gathered for a walk and candle light vigil downtown Youngstown to spread awareness.
In the middle of downtown Youngstown at Federal Plaza, you can find 80 ribbons — each one representing 10 people living in the tri-county area with HIV.
HIV can be passed through unclean needles or through sexual contact. A local doctor said fighting the virus can be hard.
Currently, there’s no cure, but medication can help control symptoms
“The biggest problem with AIDS patients is that immunity is so poor, they are not even able to fight back the routine infection, and they become very sick from those infections,” said Dr. Munir Shah, who works with infectious diseases at Trumbull Regional Medical Center.
He recommends getting tested for HIV as soon as you are sexually active.
Deborah Decembly is one of the roughly 800 people living in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties with HIV. She tested positive in 2003. She now serves as an advocate for those in a similar situation.
“I didn’t care what they were saying about the stigma — about the ’80s. What people thought or felt — that was their issue, it wasn’t mine,” Decembly says.
Gerald Wolfe works for Warren City Health District, trying to limit the spread of the virus. He has been living with HIV for 12 years.
“I remember reading in the newspaper, thinking there’s this disease from New York and California, and I thought, ‘This is never going to be anything around here.’ But the next thing I knew, my friends one-by-one all through Akron — by the time I was 25, they had pretty much all passed away,” Wolfe said.
Olga Irwin says she had been unknowingly living with HIV for several years when she met her husband. They have been married for more than 20 years.
“We’re a serodiscordant couple –where I am HIV positive and he’s not HIV positive,” Irwin says.
All three of them are living with HIV at an undetectable level, meaning their viral load is so low, the virus is unable to spread.
“But there are some people that the chemistry in their body might not reach undetectable, so we don’t want people to feel misplaced or bad about that because it’s not their fault. It’s just something with the medicine,” Irwin says.
She says that due to the advancement of modern medicine, contracting HIV is no longer a death sentence — now, it’s more like living with a manageable chronic disease.