Locals commemorate World AIDS Day

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Sunday locals gathered at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Panama City to commemorate World AIDS Day.

December 1 is recognized as World AIDS Day. (MGN Image)

The service was put together by BASIC of Northwest Florida and the United Way.

Health officials say the disease is still very prevalent across the country and here at home

Robert Wilson Jr., with the Florida Department of Health in Bay County, said, "There's at least 500 if not more cases here in our area."

Officials say with medical advancements, it's much easier to live with the disease than it was decades ago.

Reverend Doctor Malcolm Marler with the UAB Hospital said, "Because now a person can take one pill a day and it's an amazing thing. They go to the doctor a couple times a year and live a full life."

Officials say while the treatment of the disease is much better, it's good practice to be proactive and get tested when you can.

Sharron Joseph with BASIC said, "As you go through life, we come from all walks of life, and you just never know what you might be carrying around. So, it's very important that you know your status and get tested."

The service took the time to honor those lost to the disease and officials say, they want to defeat the stigma around getting tested for HIV/AIDS.

Wilson said, "The message I say anywhere I can is to stop being scared. This isn't 1990 anymore. Back then folks were dying from this disease and that's what we remember on World AIDS Day but looking forward the only threat to your life is not knowing you have it and not doing anything about it."

As organizations work to do away with HIV/AIDS, those living with the disease can live full lives and find hope in what was once to some a life-threatening diagnosis.

"There's lots of hope and encouragement for people and I really think that's what this service is for," said Marler.

For more information on BASIC's services and information on PrEP click here.

For more information on the Florida Department of Health's services click here.

For testing locations and services in Bay County click here.

Copyright 2019 WJHG. All rights reserved.