World AIDS Day: Valley AIDS Council encourages HIV testing and awareness

Local News

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day and the theme for this year is “End inequalities. End AIDS.”

The CEO for Valley AIDS Council and Westbrook Clinics, Wally Cantu, said the goal is to ensure everyone receives the resources needed to treat and prevent HIV and provide awareness.

“World AIDS Day is a commemoration for the people that we have lost as well as recognizing those that are still living with the virus,” said Cantu.

He said there have been advancements in treatment that are providing better outcomes for people with the disease.

“There have been advances in treatment, so people are not dying from HIV anymore they’re dying from all of the other comorbidities, hypertension, diabetes, and all of the other comorbidities,” he said.

However, Cantu explained that in the past the outcome was not always the same.

“When Valley AIDS Council first started in 1987, the treatments weren’t that good, people were still dying, so we were helping people get their lives in order to die,” said Cantu.

He said treatments went from multiple pills daily, to now monthly and even injections to treat the disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected the Valley AIDS Council and Westbrook Clinic’s operation last year, according to Cantu.

“When COVID first started we had to rethink about how we were providing not only our treatment but our prevention because we weren’t able to go out into the community, so we had to switch to doing things virtually. What we saw was that people were not coming in to get tested at the same number that they were in years prior,” he said.

Cantu said although fewer people were getting tested for HIV last year, from those people tested more were positive for HIV.

He said testing in the Rio Grande Valley has increased almost 50% from last year and the HIV positive numbers have also increased.

“We had 50 people so far this year, who our clinic has tested with HIV. We know that there is about 13% of the population out there that have HIV, but don’t come for testing,” said Cantu.

Valley AIDS Council provides presentations in schools and communities and other resources including counseling, according to Cantu.

He explained the importance of providing awareness and education in the Rio Grande Valley and among Latinos.

“Having those conversations, knowing your status, and coming in to get tested. The information is the biggest key part of that and a lot of times they’re difficult conversations to have,” said Cantu.

He said staff at the centers provide guidance and support for people in need.

Visit the Valley AIDS Council for information and its resources.

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