The snowstorm that engulfed Chicago last Friday prevented 8th District State Rep.-elect Lashawn K Ford to speak about his plan of countering the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Illinoison on Dec. 1, which was World AIDS Day.

Nevertheless, Ford still managed to express, through other communicative outlets, his intention to work with fellow politicians and medical providers to examine current Illinois state law and amend it in order to expand voluntary HIV screenings in health care settings.

“HIV and AIDS continue to be a major health risk for people of all ages, no matter their race, sex or economic background, especially in the 8th District,” said Ford. “Current Illinois state law needs to be examined and amended where needed to be in line with updated HIV testing recommendations in health care settings. I will work with all interested parties to make it easier to perform voluntary HIV screenings in health care settings, with less paperwork involved.”

Though his message failed to reach the masses at a preplanned AIDS Day event last Friday at Circle Family Care, 4909 W. Division, where patrons were allowed to receive free HIV tests, the prevalence and spread of the disease has become a problem effecting families everyday, making no day inappropriate to discuss solutions.

According to federal health statistics, nationwide, nearly 40 million people are infected with the HIV virus, including 2.3 million children. In 2005, 4.1 million new cases were identified. Half of those contracted the virus before the age of 25 and are killed by AIDS before they reach age 35. In the United States, an estimated 250,000 have HIV but do not yet know it. However, people living with HIV can receive effective treatment, resulting in improved health and extended life.

Worldwide, an estimated 39.5 million people, including 2.3 million children, are living with HIV/AIDS in 2006, according the health statistics. Since 1981, more than 25 million people worldwide have died from AIDS.

World AIDS Day began in 1988. The day serves as a reminder that HIV/AIDS, while no longer the stigmatizing disease it was in the 1980s, has nevertheless has remained one of the world’s most prevalent diseases. Health experts encourage people to lower their risk of getting HIV and to get tested regularly.

Ford believes that by adopting voluntary HIV screening in health care settings, it will detect the AIDS-causing virus earlier, identify people who did not know they had HIV, and link them to the care that they need, thereby decreasing the spread of the virus and the disease.

“Though HIV/AIDS continues to be a huge concern, much progress has been made in the treatment of it in the last 10 years,” said Ford. “There are now 22 medications to treat HIV, and people with HIV can live well and extend their lives with excellent medical care.

“This is why it is even more important that people ionals to do HIV screening in health care settings, and with less paperwork, while making HIV testing a normal routine in health screenings.

These new recommendations address HIV testing in health care settings only, however, and do not change guidelines for HIV testing in non-clinical settings.

“I realize that there is a need to respect a person’s right to confidentiality and a person’s need to understand what is involved when an HIV test is done,” said Ford. “In line with these new recommendations, I will work with all interested parties to examine the current Illinois state law and work to amend it where needed. I believe Illinois will be in the forefront of HIV screening and prevention by following these new recommendations.”