On World AIDS day, locals stress the importance of awareness


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Jeffrey Moore is living with AIDS.

The 56-year-old from Cedar Rapids said he knows exactly when he contracted the disease — after a condom broke during sex with his HIV-positive partner.

"I just kept going without getting tested, but I knew it was what it was," Moore said.

And by the time he was diagnosed in 1998, he had both HIV and AIDS.

Moore told his story to a small audience at the Iowa City Public Library Monday night during a panel hosted by the National Pharmaceutical Association.

"The various drug cocktails out there are taking away from the importance [of HIV/AIDS]," he said. "But it's still just as important as it was 20 years ago."

But many Iowa City advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS agree that, while locals are more actively working to prevent spreading the disease, people are viewing the condition as a less serious issue.

Today is World AIDS Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the continuing effect of HIV/AIDS, and many are hoping Iowa City residents — and everyone else — listen.

"Over the last few years, I think people have developed too casual of an attitude about this," said Carol Paper, the program coordinator for the Iowa Center for AIDS Resources and Education, or ICare in Iowa City. "They're thinking, 'There are pills for it,' but they seem to be forgetting there's no cure."

HIV is not close to being cured, said Jack Stapleton, the director of the University of Iowa HIV Program, but researchers continue to develop possibilities.

Some of Stapleton's work found proteins that can stop the HIV virus from growing. The research is relatively young but could possibly be turned into a vaccine for the general population.

Roughly 22,076 people were living with HIV/AIDS in Iowa at the end of 2009, said Randy Mayer, bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis.

He said the highest concentrations exist in Polk, Scott and Johnson Counties. Locally, the rate is 103 people per 100,000 is infected with either HIV/AIDS in 2009.

Despite the growing sense of a casual attitude towards the issue of HIV/AIDS, Paper — who has helped patients since 1986 — said ICare has seen an increase in locals using its services. People seem to be more responsive when faced with the idea of protecting themselves, she said.

Craig Bennett, who spoke at the panel discussion Tuesday, said he contracted HIV in San Francisco in 1996, after having unprotected sex, and he spent weeks in bed "violently ill."

He said he'd gone through depression following the diagnosis and refused to date for nearly 10 years.

"If I was in a bar, I'd act like a jerk," Bennett said.

Bennett, 45, said he recently decided making others aware of his HIV is a priority.

"This is a part of me, so I'm making the effort," he said.

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