Local group hopes to fight new infections with free HIV tests

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston was voted Number One City in the U.S. for three years in a row. It's charming and beautiful but there are some numbers you may not have heard about.According to the Centers for Disease Control, South Carolina is ranked eighth in the nation for new HIV infections and Charleston is the city with one of the fastest growing HIV infection rates in the state."Stigma in the south is such a huge battle and people understanding and realizing that it is not a gay disease, " said Bradley Childs, Executive Director of Lowcountry Aids Services. "South Carolina leads the nation in heterosexual transmissions."We spoke with Childs to find out why there was an increase in infections."It has a lot to do with poverty and lack of access to care and also the breakdown of our educational system," he said.Childs says the state-ordered abstinence-only teaching in public schools is not helping to educate and inform people about how to protect themselves from HIV. "Because of the Increased rates, I think it is important to push testing and prevention," he said. "It's not going anywhere." It takes only 20 minutes to get tested for HIV. After a single finger prick, you'll know your status and knowing is power.Power that helped Michael Luciano after being diagnosed with AIDS back in 1992."It was essentially considered a death sentence," he remembered. "I was told by several doctors that I probably had six months or less to live."But live he did, even though many around him weren't as lucky. Luciano says he'd go to two to three funerals a week at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. He now donates his time volunteering to help others suffering with the virus."There is a great deal of shame and blame associated with HIV so it makes people hesitant to get tested and makes them hesitant to talk to one another openly about their status," he said. "That communication is essential to preventing new infections."Those at Lowcountry AIDS Services say they are positive this negative trend of increased HIV infections in Charleston can be reversed, but they can't do it alone.This week is national HIV testing week. You can get tested at your local doctor's office, or for free at Lowcountry AIDS Services on Meeting Street Road in North Charleston.
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