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Carlito's World
by Carlos Correa

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Every year on World AIDS Day I reflect on all the hard work that I have done in the community to help prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS. It's a day I remember all of the friends I have made while in this field who have passed away from the disease. It's also a day I embark on new initiatives while looking back at the improvements that were made by others.

World AIDS Day here in Chicago is usually filled with free HIV testing and counseling at clinics, various ceremonies and special events. It's also a day we as service providers try to get the message out about: "Getting Tested."

Knowing your HIV status is one of the most important things people would want to know about themselves because it's a start to a better healthier lifestyle. Others, especially young adults, believe not knowing is better on their sanity. In my experience you wouldn't imagine how many young adults are walking out there today with no knowledge of their HIV status.

I've tested a lot of youth for HIV and, remarkably enough, some come back for their results while others don't. Those who decide not to return sometimes are the ones who have tested positive for HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases and just haven't realized it. According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, 208 people ages 13 through 24 were diagnosed with HIV infection from 1998 to 2000, which accounted for 12% of all HIV infections during that time period. More than half of these individuals acquired HIV as a result of sexual contact.

Which leaves me amazed that parents today are under the impression that their children are not having sex before marriage.

In fact I think parents assume since their children aren't having sex they are not at risk of contracting anything. This is false, and was proven to me while attending some elementary schools in the past few weeks on the Southwest Side.

I spoke to many 5th graders from the various Latino and African-American communities who, to my surprise, knew just a little too much about sex than expected. It was as if I was speaking to a room of high school students who knew a lot about sexuality and a little about HIV. As I spoke to them about the myths and facts on HIV/AIDS, I couldn't help but feel disappointed that while HIV/AIDS cases continue to skyrocket, especially among young adults of color, funds for prevention seem to decrease dramatically.

I would advise anyone who is reading this column to get tested today for HIV in a nearby clinic or community center, because it's important to know your HIV status and help defeat this dreaded disease.

AIDS is far from over, but I am a true believer that somehow, someday, a cure will be found, and living in a world without HIV/AIDS would become a reality, instead of a fantasy.

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