More than 100 people took part in a candlelight vigil and walk Thursday in Wichita to commemorate World Aids Day. The event began at the Wichita Art Museum and ended up at the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
Among those taking part was Teresa Romey, an HIV medical case manager for the University of Kansas School of Medicine. She said in an interview before the vigil that the world has changed dramatically since the first AIDS case was diagnosed on Dec. 1, 1981.“Because of the new medications and because people are finding out their status earlier and taking care of themselves, they’re living a lot longer,” she said
Romey said 25 Kansans died of AIDS in 2009, the last year for which figures are available. That’s down considerably from the 134 who died in 1994, the peak year for AIDS deaths in the state. At the end of 2009, there were 2,599 Kansans living with HIV virus or AIDS, about 725 of whom live in the Wichita area, Romey said.
In the early days of the disease, Romey said, a person diagnosed with AIDS had a life expectancy of six to 18 months.
“Now we’re seeing people living 40-plus years,” she said. “Not just living, but living healthy, substantial lives.”
Each of Kansas’ 105 counties has been home to someone at some point who has HIV.
Romey said the widespread use of AIDS testing today is responsible for an increase in the number of people who are confirmed to be living with the HIV virus.
“More people are getting tested, so we’re finding more people in the early stages of the disease,” she said.
“The number of deaths are going down, but the number of new infections is increasing.”