By Sean V. Lehosit
About one in every five people living with HIV are unaware they are infected, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
This is one reason HIV/AIDS advocates push for the sexually active to get tested.
Westside resident Dave Baker has lived with AIDS for about 18 years. During winter months, you’ll find him wearing a jacket that reads, “AIDS 101.”
Baker has put his face and name out there because he believes open dialogue is how communities can stop the rapid spread of the disease.
“I contracted HIV from living uneducated and uninformed,” he said.
Baker is a voting member on Ohio’s HIV planning group and has been a guest speaker at Maryhaven for a number of years, alongside giving informational presentations at churches, schools and other organizations. Volunteering his time has given Baker a new sense of life.
“I hope by putting my name and face on it, I can encourage others to go get tested,” Baker said.
The rate of infection for youth ages 15-24 is increase. Statistics published by the Ohio Health Department show about 1,000 new cases of residents living with HIV every year in Franklin County, a trend which concerns health advocates.
When the AIDS Healthcare Foundation expanded its clinics to the Midwest, the first location they opened was in Columbus. The decision was based on where HIV infections were highest, according to Baker.
The foundation’s location near Mount Carmel West at 815 W. Broad St. features wellness clinics, free STD/HIV testing and a discounted pharmacy. Its goal is to provide innovative healthcare regardless of a person’s finances, according to clinic staff.
“HIV can be managed by medications, but you don’t know you have it and you’re spreading it around,” Baker said.
A common question he gets during presentations is at what age someone should test for HIV or other diseases. Parents should take their children to get tested as soon as they become sexually active, according to Baker.
Families should communicate about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases.
Those highest at risk for contracting HIV are those who engage in casual sex, drug users, pregnant women, and minority youth. While African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for around 50 percent of new infections, according to the CDC.
Baker said he does not agree with the abstinence stance. He thinks the statistics show it’s not working. A 2002 study by CDC showed 46 percent of teens had sex during or before high school.
For information on how to get tested or what happens next if you are found to be positive for HIV/AIDS, visit www.aidshealth.org.