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El Paso, TX (KDBC) — More than 4,500 people in El Paso, Juarez and Las Cruces are living with HIV or AIDS.
A candlelight vigil organized by International AIDS Empowerment, IAE, in El Paso will hold a candlelight vigil Friday to honor the lives of people who have died of AIDS, and also to support those who are living with the disease.
The vigil will be from 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Friday at 201 E. Ninth St. in the Border Farmworkers parking lot. Chinese fire lanterns will be simultaneously released at 8:30 p.m. from Downtown El Paso, as well as the Juarez Chamizal.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 36-million people have died since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in 1981.
According to Victor Santana-Melgoza, with IAE, national statistics, which are similar to the trend in El Paso, show one in four people between the ages of 13-24 are HIV positive. One in six of those newly infected doesn't even know it.
"Young people don't know anybody that has died of AIDS, and so those individuals are taking riskier behaviors and then becoming infected," said Santana-Melgoza.
There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but Santana-Melgoza said there is treatment to make it a manageable disease.
IAE El Paso offers services that include free, confidential HIV testing and counseling, housing and pet assistance, support groups, outreach and education, as well as a food pantry.
"The idea that AIDS is a death sentence is no longer true. People are living 60-80 years with the disease, so that's why we're no longer hearing about people dying of the disease as we did in the 80s and 90s," said Santana-Melgoza.
Gabriel Martinez Jr. found out in February that he is HIV positive. Since then, he's been volunteering with several organizations, including IAE El Paso, to increase awareness about the disease.
He also utilizes the counseling services available at IAE.
"I know a lot of individuals who their parents find out they have HIV and they disown them and they feel like they're left out in the world," said Martinez.
Another man who did not want to be identified said he took an HIV test at a gay pride celebration four years ago and tested positive. He agreed to use the pseudonym, "Eric."
He was normally a social and outgoing person, but said he became quiet and kept to himself because he struggled with the stigma.
"Having HIV or AIDS is not the end of the world, but I wouldn't wish this upon my worst enemy," said "Eric," who also admitted that he has not told his family that he is HIV positive.
"Eric," along with IAE encourages everyone to get tested.
International AIDS Empowerment is located at 800 Montana, but as of June 1, they will relocate to 211 W. Yandell. Their hours of operation are 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday - Friday.
For more information, call (915) 590-2118, or visit http://www.internationalaids.org/.
801 N. Oregon, El Paso, Texas 79902 • (915) 532-5421 • email@example.com
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