By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Amid a weekend of turkey, stuffing and preliminary decking the halls, the Indian River County Health Department is highlighting a serious medical issue.
On Dec. 1, the local health department is joining with a worldwide movement to highlight HIV/AIDS, disease prevention and treatment with a special presentation at the Vero Beach Heritage Center.
The program is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and will include a candle vigil, special guest speakers for a discussion panel, representatives of the Positive Mind and Body Support Group, local leaders and a keynote speaker, psychologist Rebecca S. Rustine.
This year marks the 32nd year of World Aids Day and this year's theme is "Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-free Generation."
The county health department and the Indian River County HIV/AIDS Awareness Network are partnering together to bring the event to the community, said John May, event coordinator.
HIV/AIDS has a connotation in society that often scares people, but treatment has progressed to the point where a positive test result doesn't mean a death sentence. Advances in technology and science have made fighting the disease a very real option, Mr. May said.
People who should get tested for HIV/AIDS often don't because they are worried about a stigma, but the problem is, they could be making their situation worse and not even know it, he said.
"We say, 'pass the message, not the disease,'" Mr. May said.
The county health department offers free counseling to patients and family members affected by HIV or AIDS, the department website said.
Free education classes are also offered to businesses, churches and other organizations in the hopes that education will also reduce fears and misconceptions people have about the virus, the website said.
"My goal is to see people get tested, get educated and get treatment," he said.
Confidential and anonymous HIV testing is available through the health department and a lab processing fee of $25 is normally charged, though it can be waived under special circumstances. HIV and AIDS patient care is also available.
For more information about the upcoming event or the Indian River County Health Department's HIV and AIDS outreach program, contact Mr. Mays at (772) 794-7477 or visit www.floridahealth.gov/chdIndianRiver/ClinicsandServices/HIV.htm.