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Awareness key to removing AIDS stigma

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Thirty years ago, the Centers for Disease Control reported the first known cases of AIDS. The center reports with no cure, more than 60 million people around the globe have been infected with HIV/AIDS and nearly half have died.

Kevin Beauchamp, 48, was infected with HIV more than 20 years ago.

"Because of the medications I was on I lost most of my hair, lost my vision,” said Beauchamp. “To this day I still have the AIDS look reminiscent of the 80's and 90's having lost a lot of the body fat and particularly it shows around my face."

Jaszi Alejandro, 25, was infected more recently.

"I had that mindset of being invincible and it wasn't going to happen to me and I just felt that with more support I probably would have made different decisions,” said Alejandro, who was infected as a teen. “I felt like it is not as graphic as it used to be in the 80's because you're not seeing people dying, you're seeing people living with it a lot more."

While preventive tools, treatment and therapies have improved drastically, there are still sobering realities. One of the biggest challenges seems to be that the stigma remains the same.

"In spite of medications and in spite of Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson and Arthur Ashe and all of the individuals who support the work around HIV and AIDS, people are still not telling their family members,” said Marjorie Hill, the executive director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis. “They are really keeping it underground still and it is hard to manage an illness that you are closeted about."

Experts say raising awareness and visibility through big events like AIDS walks and on smaller levels is important to create change.

"I didn't always feel this comfortable about talking about my status and even talking about HIV or AIDS,” Alejandro said. “I felt that being open about my status and even disclosing to my family and to friends and becoming a spokesperson on HIV and AIDS helped to empower me."

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