LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.
Annually, the Southwest Louisiana Aids Council (SLAC) hosts World AIDS Day at the Warren United Methodist Church. Through music, they tell stories of those they lost and those that are currently living with HIV.
Over 1,000 people are living with HIV or AIDS in Southwest Louisiana, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
Globally, the theme this year is ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, community by community. Part of that is ending the stigma.
“What we can say is that today, what used to be a deadly disease, is now a chronic illness,” said Dr. Carlos Choucino, medical director for the Memorial Health Clinic for HIV, also known as the Comprehensive Care Clinic (CCC). “You could think of HIV these days as having diabetes or high blood pressure. As long as you take your medicines and as long as you take care of yourself, your life expectancy should be the same as if you were not HIV positive. That in itself is a tremendous change in thirty years ago.”
At the event, Dr. Choucino shared his experiences of working with patients who have HIV.
“It’s really exciting for those of us that have been seeing patients for quite a long time to be talking about not only controlling the disease, but perhaps curing it,” Dr. Choucino said. “I wish one day soon there would be no need for me to take care of HIV patients any longer. I will really be happy if I were to lose that job..”
Part of the cure is education and prevention, which is something that SLAC and CCC Executive Director Terry Estes says they do in collaboration with other organizations.
“We have to partner with other organizations, some of the churches, some of the civic organizations partner with us," Estes said. "We’d like to be able to do more, but the Department of Education has to have a bigger role in how that’s going to change for us.”
Darrell Latin is the Assistant Pantry Manager for SLAC. He has lived with HIV for the past 25 years.
“There’s no cure but there’s treatment, there’s pills, medication that has prolonged your life," Latin said. “What the pills does is suppress the virus, even so to the point, do you see the button here that says ‘U=U,’ that stands for Undetectable means Un-transmittable. If my viral is going to stay undetectable, I can’t transmit the disease but I can transmit some other STI or STD, you know what I mean, but HIV I wouldn’t be able to transmit.”
For more information about SLAC and the CCC, click here.