Today, Wednesday, December 1, is World AIDS Day. Since the first official World AIDS Day in 1988, numerous non-profits, health organizations and awareness campaigns have worked annually to bring attention to HIV/AIDS around the world.

Locally, the Greater Community AIDS Project (GCAP) will host several events this week to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS and how it impacts our lives right here in Champaign-Urbana. GCAP was founded in 1985, originally as the Gay Community AIDS Project, by concerned C-U residents who were concerned about the growing number of friends and loved ones diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. In addition to the World AIDS Day events, GCAP is also celebrating its 25th year as the leading not-for-profit organization that directly addresses HIV/AIDS in Champaign-Urbana.

Advocates and researchers long ago dismissed HIV/AIDS as just a "gay" disease, or something that only happens on far-away continents. In reality, HIV/AIDS is happening right here, in our own back yards. Mike Benner, Executive Director at GCAP, commented on the growing number of those living with HIV in East Central Illinois.

"We have known about HIV/AIDS for over 30 years, and it has not gone away yet. It's no longer just in the large cities, happening to very small groups of people with specific behaviors. We have women, men, adults and children living in our community with HIV/AIDS right now. Decades ago, when we finally discovered how HIV was transmitted, everyone thought it was a short-term disease that we could address easily with education and testing. It's 2010 and we're still seeing an increase in the annual number of infections."

The CDC has estimated that the U.S. experiences more than 50,000 new cases of HIV infection every year, with over 1.2 million individuals living with HIV/AIDS in America as of 2008. There are over 1500 new cases reported in Illinois annually, with several hundred individuals currently infected in Champaign County and the surrounding areas.

While the various community awareness activities are important on World AIDS Day, this is a battle that needs year-round attention. "We should be reminded every day that people are infected daily. People in our country, our state, our community are dying every day from HIV/AIDS-related complications. It hasn't gone away and we need to remember our risks and resources all year round," says Benner, who is also an HIV-positive community member.

There are many World AIDS Day activities open to the public this week, both on campus and in the community.

GCAP's World AIDS Day and 25th Anniversary events this week include:

Food for the Soul: World AIDS Day

When: Wednesday, December 1, from 12-1 p.m.

Where: Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural House, 708 S. Mathews, Urbana

What: Discussion on HIV/AIDS in our community with Mike Benner, Executive Director of GCAP, who has been HIV-positive since 2002. The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District will also be on-site to provide free HIV testing. Lunch will be provided.

Cost: Free

 

World AIDS Day Memorial Service

When: Wednesday, December 1, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Where: Illinois Terminal, 45 E. University Ave., downtown Champaign

What: A memorial service to remember those who have died from HIV/AIDS, and support those who continue to fight the disease in Champaign-Urbana. Guest speakers will highlight the history of HIV/AIDS activism in our community, and Amasong will perform.

Cost: Free

AIDS Resource Fair

When: Saturday, December 4, from 1-4 p.m.

Where: Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana

What: An informational fair with booths staffed by local resource organizations. Plans for the event include a performance, a talk on AIDS work in Africa, and a crafts area for kids inspired by the artifacts in the Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education, and AIDS in South Africa exhibit.

Cost: Free

GCAP 25th Anniversary and Holiday Floorshow

When: Saturday, December 4, 6-10 p.m.

Where: Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois, Urbana

What: A 25th anniversary celebration and fundraiser, with an eclectic blend of entertainment ---everything from cabaret to vaudeville.  There will also be a Holiday Buffet by Classic Events Catering, cash bar, silent auction and raffles. All proceeds benefit GCAP. Cocktail attire encouraged.

Cost: Tickets are $30 per person, $50 for couples, $20 for students. You can purchase online here, or call 217-351-2437. Tickets will also be available at the door for an additional $5 per person.

Visit their website for additional information about GCAP or World AIDS Day events or volunteer opportunities.