Archive for Friday, April 12, 1996

MISSION CONTINUES FOR AIDS PROJECT WORKERS

April 12, 1996

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The spread of HIV among young adults keeps Douglas County AIDS Project busy.

The client list at Douglas County AIDS Project contains 30 names.

Each defines the human cost of the nation's AIDS crisis, which claims 30,000 to 40,000 lives a year.

Absent a medical miracle, more young adults in their 20s and 30s -- the group with the highest prevalence of the human immunodeficiency virus -- will join that list this year.

"There's a rising rate among young people in terms of HIV infection," said Pam Casagrande, DCAP office administrator and volunteer coordinator. "In the future, the need for DCAP is probably going to be greater than it is today."

Since 1988, the United Way agency has provided services and assistance for people infected and families affected by HIV and AIDS in Douglas, Jefferson and Franklin counties.

DCAP helps clients with medical care, financial aid, service referrals and emotional support. There are two support groups, one for HIV-positive individuals and another for their friends and family.

"Both of the these groups are probably as important as anything we do," Casagrande said.

The organization attempts to help clients with staggering medical expenses associated with treatment of HIV and AIDS. Many of the most promising new drugs are extremely expensive, she said.

Volunteers and staff strive to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS as a community issue. They attempt to educate audiences about the preventable, but deadly, disease.

"People need to be aware about how it's transmitted," Casagrande said. "They need to be aware that it's a disease that calls for compassion from others. There's a lot of discrimination out there."

HIV-infected clients join the project's education effort by speaking in the community about challenges of living with HIV.

They target young Americans -- the portion of the population under 36 years of age. For them, talk of condoms and safe sex hasn't generated the desired response.

"The surveys that have been done nationally and in the state show that people understand how HIV is transmitted," said Sally Finney Brazier, AIDS director for the state Department of Health and Environment.

"They know what to do to protect themselves. But there's still a link that we haven't been able to make that helps to connect the information with the behavior change."

AIDS is the state's No. 5 killer among men 25 to 44.

Since 1981, 52 AIDS cases have been reported in Douglas County and 1,522 have been reported in Kansas. The actual number of Kansans with AIDS is higher than case counts indicate.

Casagrande said the Douglas County AIDS Project was in the process of hiring a full-time executive director. The last executive director resigned in 1994.

The organization also conducts four major fund-raisers each year -- a Valentine's Day dance, the Walk for Health in April, a garage sale in August and an art auction in conjunction with World Aids Day in December.

With the stakes rising daily, Casagrande looks optimistically to the future of HIV research. Scanning the organization's list of clients, she longs for a treatment that stops the suffering.

"Maybe, in the next few years, AIDS will be a disease that will not be fatal, but one that you live with for the rest of your life."

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