SAN DIEGO – Hundreds of San Diegans came together Monday on World AIDS Day to remember friends and loved ones lost to HIV/AIDS.
“I think about him every day,” said Sergio Dorantes, referring to his friend Pedro, who died of AIDS.
Health officials still consider AIDS to be a worldwide epidemic.
Dorantes and others joined volunteers with Mama’s Kitchen, an organization that helps take care of HIV and AIDS patients, to mark the World AIDS Day with the 23rd annual Tree of Life Lighting Ceremony at Village Hillcrest.
The San Diego Gay Men Chorus sang holiday tunes as families and loved ones put ornaments on the tree carrying the names of those lost.
“Locally, we have about 21,000 people who are living with HIV,” said Patrick Loose with the San Diego County Department of Health and Human Services.
Major strides have been made to help those battling the disease and to prevent the spread, but current statistics are still worrisome said Loose. “We estimate that 2,200 people [in San Diego] are still living with HIV/AIDS but are not aware of their status.”
One of the biggest challenges to ending HIV/AIDS is still the stigma, Loose said.
“People are very afraid of knowing their HIV status," he said. "People are afraid of being discriminated against.”
The theme of World AIDS Day 2014 is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation,” which is supported by the United Nations.