McALLEN — Over 100 names of AIDS victims lined the doors of the Valley AIDS Council (VAC) off of McColl Avenue on Dec. 1 as the group remembered victims in their first interactive event to remind the community that AIDS is still a threat to the community.
Names on the wall included familiar ones like Freddy Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, and Ryan White, an Indiana teenager who got the disease through a contaminated blood transfusion. There were names of VAC patients and friends like Jim Ryan, Mary and Sergio.
For its first celebration of World AIDS Day, outreach specialists who often visit with people in nightclubs, parks and restitution centers guided visitors though different scenarios of people at-risk of being HIV or AIDS patients.
Vignettes performed by the staff and volunteers included a heterosexual teenage girl and a married woman as well as a homosexual man. Visitors were given a chance to listen in on typical conversations VAC staff has with people who seek free testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
“We go into schools and talk about HIV and STDs, but we can’t talk about condoms or safe sex,” said Lisa Solis, a coordinator at VAC.
Teenagers and adults can visit the McAllen office for free and confidential testing, Solis said, with a 20-minute OraQuick Rapid test that requires an oral swab and has 99.9 percent accuracy. VAC also offers blood tests; those results can take up to two weeks. Both tests are also done with VAC employees who are out in the field.
In 2010, 50 people were found to be HIV positive in the Rio Grande Valley, Solis said.
“It’s tough to go up to someone who’s having a good time at a bar and say, ‘Would you be interested in taking a test?’ but we’ve had these results because of these outreach workers.”
The VAC here has offices in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen and estimate that 2,474 people are identified as HIV positive, however only 1,474 are receiving treatment and another 1,002 never returned for their test results.
“They aren’t seeking treatment right now so you’ve basically got 1,002 targets spreading HIV,” said Solis. “We can’t keep our eyes off the issue just because medications are available.”
People found to be HIV positive are met with a case manager who assists them get the proper health care.
“They get linked to services really quickly,” Solis said.
The VAC also highlighted its substance abuse services that help clients achieve a healthier lifestyle.
“We also work to keep these kids from being future (VAC) clients,” said Angie Chapa, a risk-counseling specialist.
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