HIV up in Arizona minorities; rate comparable to 1990

Paint for Peace event to bring awareness and address stigma.

PHOENIX - Fifteen quilt panels are on display at the Parsons Center for Health and Wellness, representing the lives lost over the years to AIDS as part of World AIDS Day celebration in the Valley.

Kit Kloecko of Aunt Rita's Foundation said he doesn't want anyone to forget how AIDS wreaked havoc in the 1980s.

"A panel in each section [of the quilt] means something significant to someone here in Arizona," he said.

The quilt will be on display through Dec. 8. You can read their names, learn their stories and honor their memory.

PHOTOS: Quilts on display for World AIDS Day

Jeff and Paul, whose quilts are together, were friends. They died within two weeks of each other back in 1991.

"One before Thanksgiving," said Peter Rodriguez, who was Paul's boyfriend. "The other one just before Christmas."

Rodriguez himself was diagnosed with HIV and given just six months to live. That was more than 30 years ago.

Since then, he's made it his mission to fight on all fronts, but he's watched so many lose their battles.

"I lost so many ... it's just hard," he said, holding back tears. "I don't want people to forget where we came from. When you see a 20-year-old go from a healthy young man to a skeleton and pass away, it's a whole different ball game."

That's a ball game newer generations didn't see.

Ignorance is not bliss.

"Our infection rate is going up in the younger demographic," said Kloecko.

HIV infections are up in Arizona, with the latest numbers identical to the rate of infection in 1990, and it is not just affecting gay men.

Latinos make up 35 percent of infections in Arizona. And the CDC reports one in 16 black men will get HIV. For residents who are black and gay, there is a 50 percent chance they will be diagnosed as HIV positive in their lifetime.

Black people had 566 percent more new HIV infections in 2014 than Caucasians.

"Those are what the statistics are right now," said Nicholas Anthony of Heal International.

He added that, as a black man, the numbers hit close to home.

Anthony organized a "Paint for Peace" event at ASU's Tempe campus to celebrate World AIDS Day. He said he wanted to bring people together, to encourage them to express themselves to help get rid of the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.

"Out of all the reasons to be here, and trust me there are many, stigma is the main one," said Anthony. "Stigma is what keeps people from getting tested."

Anthony said that same stigma largely affects minority populations.

But a local nonprofit is in his corner. Calicia White from Ebony House, provides HIV prevention and treatment services -- some of which is free, including testing and condoms.

"[Black peopl]e are quickly becoming newly diagnosed than any other group," said White. That's true in Arizona, across the country and across the world, White said.

The saying goes: "It's only dangerous if you don't know it's there."

Phoenix-area locations to get a free HIV screening: 

• Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS

• Terros

• Ebony House, Inc.

• Native Health

Copyright 2016 KPNX


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