This year marks a grim birthday: it was thirty years ago that the first AIDS victims were officially diagnosed. Though the rate of new HIV infections in the US has stabilized in recent years, the percentage of those in rural areas has been on the rise. In this weekly Health & Wealth update, World AIDS Day.
This year, as every year, people in Columbia and around the globe observed World AIDS Day on December 1. Columbia residents held a candle-light vigil to remember those who have passed away and to honor the 1.2 million people in the US infected with HIV.
In bigger towns, like Columbia, there are established networks for people who are HIV positive. But that's not the case everywhere in Missouri.
I spoke with Cale Mitchell, executive director of Rain, which provides services to people with HIV in 37 counties in central and northern Missouri. He says people in rural areas face barriers to getting the care they need.
"Access to care is the biggest issue. The physicians that are in those areas are often not comfortable caring for an HIV positive person because they don't see it that often and don't have the understanding of how to treat. The pharmacies in the area won't carry HIV medication because it's not something you want sitting on the shelf going bad."
He says the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is still stronger in some rural communities. "You still get that kind of that knee-jerk reaction of 'Oh, I can't shake hands, I don't want to share silverware, or the drinking fountain or bathroom facilities with that individual.'"
In the counties that make up Rain's service area, there are 415 officially diagnosed cases of HIV. Mitchell says the true number is likely closer to 500.