HOUSTON – On Saturday, people around the world will unite in the fight against HIV as they commemorate World AIDS Day.
One Houston woman was diagnosed more than two decades ago and has lived to see the birth of her grandchildren, but she said the stigma and secrets of AIDS still remain.
In 1989, Charlotte Harris was stunned when doctors told her that her husband was dying from AIDS.
She was tested and learned she, too, was HIV positive.
"You can live a long life. It's not a death sentence anymore, but it is a life sentence," Harris said.
At that time, patients like Harris were expected to live, at most, five more years. But, she carried on and now volunteers at the Thomas Street Health Center, mentoring the newly diagnosed.
She tells others, "You're greater than the disease. You're a whole person and you can live a long and healthy life, but you have to have a positive outlook."
Volunteers and staffers with the Harris Health System commemorated World AIDS Day by placing ornaments on the Tree of Remembrance, each one representing a life lost.
Medical Director of HIV Services for the Harris Health System, Dr. Thomas, Giordano told Local 2, "(AIDS) has sort of moved under the radar, frankly."
He said he sees new cases through the doors every day.
He added, "Seven hundred, 800, 900 new patients a year (are) coming into this clinic. It's all people in the population at risk. There's no one who's completely safe."
Giordano is an advocate for routine HIV screening because, despite advances in medicine which help patients like Charlotte live longer, we're still a long way from a cure.
He explained, "There's no magic bullet on the horizon I see. There's continued development of new tools that add a little bit. Each one is adding a little bit to our armamentarium and together hopefully they'll make a difference."
Harris said the best advice she can give people is, “First, get tested. If you know that there’s something not right with you and your body tells you that, get tested. Know what your results are. Know what your status is.”