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Today is World AIDS Day

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How apropos; today on LAist it's Sex Saturday, but today also happens to be World AIDS Day. Several events took place yesterday and will happen today in order to remind the world community that HIV/AIDS remains a global threat. The LA Times reports today on President Bush's public appearance yesterday at a church in northern Maryland, and that his speeches did not propose new plans or funding, but rather focused on humanitarianism. According to the article, "World AIDS Day, Bush said, was a time to 'rededicate ourselves to a great purpose: We will turn the tide against HIV/AIDS, once and for all.'"Sounds great, sure. But what's really being done in our city to raise awareness and fight the disease?

Here in LA, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa rolled up his sleeve and pitched in--actually, he opened his mouth and said "aahhh"--and took yesterday what's known as a "rapid swab" saliva HIV test which provides results in minutes. This is part of the HIV Testing Initiative, aimed at getting minority groups tested for the virus. It is estimated that 15,000 people in Los Angeles don't know that they are infected, and the majority of new cases are being reported in minority populations. Mayor Tony expressed his thoughts on testing and awareness and the need to break down barriers: "If we are going to eliminate HIV in Los Angeles, we need to get past the stereotypes and stigma, and make HIV testing a part of routine healthcare for all Angelenos." In this KNBC report, statistics indicate that Hispanics comprise 18% of new cases, and African Americans 50%. Organizations like the Magic Johnson Foundation share the goal of reaching out to the most vulnerable communities.

In recognition of World AIDS Day, The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is getting things underway here today with a breakfast and ceremony to honor government officials and community representatives who have been instrumental in the fight against AIDS. According to a press release, following the official ceremony, "participants will sign cards with personal messages to honor and remember those who lost their lives to HIV/AIDS, attach the cards to a red balloon, and release the balloons into the Los Angeles skyline. (Please note that the balloons are environmentally friendly and use biodegradable latex material and string.)"

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Craig Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles, put the local epidemic into perspective: "You could fill Dodger stadium with the 60,000 people now living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County" (KNBC).

For information on making donations, ways you can help in your community, or about getting tested or treated, here are some helpful links:

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA)
LA County Public Health's Office of AIDS Program & Policy
Aid for AIDS
LA Gay & Lesbian Center

Photo of singer Danni Minogue by Terrence Higgins Trust via The Sydney Morning Herald