A message of hope in the fight against a 35-year global epidemic, HIV-AIDS

December 1 is World AIDS day

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday is World AIDS Day. On this day, for the past 32 years, people from around the globe come together on Dec. 1 to fight human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, HIV-AIDS.

The day focuses on lifting those who have the disease, reflecting on those who died from AIDS-related illnesses, and preventing new cases.

Like most things amid this pandemic, World AIDS Day events globally, nationally, and locally are going virtual

Justin Bell is president of the North Florida Chapter of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. He is also the medical care navigator community liaison at CAN Community Health JAX.

“As an individual with HIV, I can see a correlation between COVID-19 and HIV,” Bell said. “In the world, as we know it, we have caused so much stigma, so much hate, so much frustration and confusion around COVID19, just like we did around HIV and we continue to do.”

Bell has been HIV positive for 13 years.

“In 2001, I had a medical procedure done and the mode of transmission was a medical transmission and I went undiagnosed until 2007,” he said.

Since then, Bell has found his calling in helping others living with HIV-AIDS and preventing new cases of HIV.

“The pandemic has caused many challenges, opportunities, a lot of fear, concern. Many of my peers who were living healthy, prosperous lives; became unemployed, and then uninsured,” Bell said.

According to the state’s 2017 AIDS Surveillance Report, there were nearly 8500 people throughout Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau, and Baker counties living with HIV-AIDS.

Bell listed the populations with the highest rate of infections and provided a message of hope.

“One, 13-24; men who have sex with men; three, people of color,” explained Bell. “The face of HIV has changed; it’s changed drastically from what we knew in 1985 to where we are in the year of 2020. HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence; however, it does not negate the responsibility of the individual who is newly diagnosed and formerly diagnosed to get into care and stay into care. One day. One day. We will be free; we will be free of HIV.”

Click here to participate in World AIDS Day events and find resources.

Due to restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the AIDS Memorial Quilt which is a quintessential feature of World AIDS Day, is going virtual for the first time ever.

“The brainchild of the AIDS Memorial Quilt was Cleve Jones, an San Francisco native, gay rights activist and now producer that was his vision, in the mid-1980s and it has grown from a small fabric to the largest artwork tapestry in the world.” Explained Bell. “There are about 100k names attached to that tapestry. The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and it’s protected by laws of congress. It is a memorial for individuals who have died of AIDS. It is also helped to eliminate stigma, encourage testing, promote conversation.”

RELATED: See the AIDS Memorial Quilt

Jacksonville City Hall is usually a host of the quilt, but because of the pandemic this year the quilt will not be displayed in physical places, only online.

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