County officials, HIV/AIDS advocates, and survivors gathered in downtown Pittsburgh Monday to mark International World AIDS Day and to blow up a 30-foot balloon ribbon onto Fifth Ave. Place.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald noted it’s been more than 30 years since the first AIDS cases were reported.
“Today we stand together with a much greater understanding of this dreadful disease, grateful of the strides that have been made in helping people stay strong, fight, and live longer," Fitzgerald said. “But (we) continue to be frustrated that infection rates continue to grow.”
According to the state Department of Health, the total number of Pennsylvanians infected with HIV was 1,461 in 2012, down from a peak of 2,998 in 1991. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, 22,290 people diagnosed in Pennsylvania have died.
In Allegheny County, there were 128 people diagnosed in 2012, bringing the total number of those living with HIV in the county to 2,533.
Bethany Blackburn, HIV/AIDS Program Administrator at the University of Pittsburgh said more people need to get tested.
“In the U.S., almost 1.1 million people are infected with HIV with almost 20 percent (who) do not know that they are infected,” said Blackburn. “Half of new infections are transmitted by these individuals who are unaware that they carry HIV.”
African Americans are more disproportionately affected by the disease. In Pennsylvania, 51 percent of males diagnosed in 2012 were black as well as 63 percent of women. African Americans only make up 11.4 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As part of (Pittsburgh)Red, the Highmark, City-County, and other Downtown buildings will be lit up red for the rest of the week.