FARGO - The first-ever walk in North Dakota to raise awareness of HIV will take place next week at Island Park in downtown Fargo.
"Our goal with the walk is to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and to educate people on the myths surrounding it," says Ryan Braunberger, community co-chair of the North Dakota Community Planning Group, one of the organizations planning the walk along with Family Healthcare and the North Dakota Department of Health.
The North Dakota HIV Awareness Walk will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Braunberger says myths still exist today about HIV, including the belief that disease can be transmitted by touching someone with the virus or that it only affects gay men or drug users. Myths like that and more will be posted on placards along the walk.
The event's theme is "Know More. No More." In addition to focusing on education, awareness and reducing the stigma of the disease, the walk highlights advances in testing and treatment of HIV. Braunberger says more tools than ever are now available to prevent HIV, including strategies such as abstinence, limiting sexual partners, not sharing needles and using condoms.
"You may also be able to take advantage of newer HIV prevention medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis," says Braunberger. "People who are living with HIV can prevent HIV transmission by taking their medication the right way, every day."
He says individuals considered to be at a high risk should be tested every year, and testing will be available at the walk.
Braunberger says as of December 2017, there were 421 people living with HIV or AIDS in North Dakota. Still, some residents don't think the disease is here, he says.
"I believe that some people do see it as a big-city issue, that your neighbors don't have it and that you can tell right away if someone has it," Braunberger says. "We're hoping to share information at the walk that will change that."
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/northdakotacpg1.