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Ted Waddell | Democrat

Annastacia Cowles, left, is a nurse practitioner with CRMC’s HIV program. She was taking part in ceremonies marking World AIDS Day in Monticello’s St. Peter’s Church. Joining her are her children Dominique Dobson, 81⁄2 and 71⁄2-year-old Sundar Pratt. All are from South Fallsburg.

Lighting AIDS' Darkness

By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO — December 5, 2006 — The Sullivan County AIDS Task Force presented an interfaith service of hope and remembrance on Friday evening, December 1, at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in recognition of World AIDS Day 2006.
World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness about the deadly disease worldwide.
According to new reports published by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2006 the epidemic continues to spread in every region of the world, and by now more than 65 million people have been infected with HIV and in excess of 25 million have died of AIDS since 1981, 2.6 million so far this year.
WHO predicts that over the next quarter of a century, another 117 million people will perish, making AIDS the third largest cause of death worldwide.
Following prelude music by Stuart Hirsch on keyboard and flutist Dan Desmond, Father John Tran of St. Peter’s Church spoke the opening prayer.
Maryann Elberth, DSW, and program director of Catskill Regional Medical Center’s Ryan White Program, and Patti Capobianco, LMSW, co-chair of the Sullivan County AIDS Task Force addressed the assemblage, as cloud lightning was reflected in the church’s glorious stained glass windows rising high above the rows of wooden pews.
The gathering repeated the HIV Prayer in unison, most of the assemblage wearing red ribbons, the international symbol of AIDS awareness since 1991.
The Red Ribbon Project was created by Visual AIDS, the NYC-based organization which brought together artists to create a symbol of support for the increasing number of people in the United States living with HIV. The prayer:
“Most merciful God, you hold each of us dear to your heart. Hold those who are now living with HIV in your loving arms, and tenderly draw them into your love, together with all those around the world who are living with HIV and AIDS - be they the individual, the family, the caregivers, the support network, or those who seek answers in new treatments. Assure each of them that they are not alone, and give them courage and faith for all that is to come. Strengthen those who care for them and treat them, and guide those who do research.
“Forgive those who have judged others harshly, and enlighten those who live in prejudice and fear. Nourish those who have lost sight of You, and heal the sprits of those who are broken. We pray this in the name of You Oh God, whose love is unconditional and all inclusive. AMEN.”
After Hirsch and Desmond performed Hirsch’s work “Elegie,” Roland Marrero gave personal witness to living with HIV after he had an unprotected one-night stand with a woman in NYC, a woman who was HIV-positive and seeking revenge on her boyfriend whom she recently discovered was having sex with prostitutes. (Please see related story).
Several members of the local clergy spoke to the audience: Rev. Ninon Hutchinson of St. John’s Episcopal Church; Pastor Jose Romero of the Mahanaim Church; and Pastor Gene Smith of Monticello United Methodist Church.
The service closed with Rudy Scarborough singing “Blessed Assurance” from high atop the choir loft.
The theme of World AIDS Day 2006 is accountability with the slogan “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.”
HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It attacks the body’s immune system, the body’s defense against diseases. If detected early, HIV can be treated successfully, and with treatment people living with HIV will probably have a normal life span, although serious health problems may still occur.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A person is considered to have AIDS when the immune system has become so weak that it can no longer fight off a whole range of diseases with which it would normally cope.
The most common ways of getting HIV are having sexual intercourse with an infected partner where blood and/or bodily fluids (semen and/or vaginal/rectal secretions) enter the body via the penis, vagina or anus; sharing infected needles/syringes while injecting drugs; and/or from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
The best way to prevent contracting HIV is to protect yourself and your partner during sexual encounters (vaginal/rectal/oral) by using condoms.
Annastacia Cowles of South Fallsburg is a nurse practitioner with Catskill Regional Medical Center’s HIV program.
“When clients come into the program with a new diagnosis, one of our three providers will take on the case and talk to them about the disease and a treatment plan,” she said.
According to Randall Harris, LCSW, a mental health counselor with CRMC’s Ryan White HIV Program, they are currently following about 200 people with HIV/AIDS.
He said there is also a population of an estimated 400-600 inmates in local correctional facilities with HIV/AIDS “thought to be in the county.”
“It’s important for people to know what their status is,” said Cowles. “It’s like a chronic illness, and if they know they have it, they can take the right steps to get care. The test is so simple, it takes 20 minutes.”
Harris said that people react differently when learning they are HIV-positive.
“It varies greatly,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with their personality to begin with… some people seem to handle it very well, and some people seem to handle it and then they crash.”
Harris came to the county two years ago from NYC to work in the local HIV program.
“For a lot of people in the city, it was easier to be open about being HIV positive,” he said. “Up here, I’ve discovered a lot of people have secrets… they go to a different town and a different pharmacist to get their medications.”
Harris likened HIV to a “good news, bad news” scenario.
“The treatments are getting better, but I think that’s made a lot of people, especially younger people, more complacent,” he said. “They know there’s medication out there, and think ‘If I get, it’s not such a bad thing,’ but it’s very difficult to be on the regimen [of HIV medications] because it does change your life.”
“It’s not a time for complacency, it’s a time to give thanks,” added Harris. “Yes, we have treatments, but we shouldn’t get complacent about HIV/AIDS.”

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