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(New Haven, CT) — December 1 marks the annual observance of World AIDS Day, an opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for those living with HIV/AIDS, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.

Approximately 1.2 million people in America — and more than 10,500 people in Connecticut and more than 2,500 people in Rhode Island — are currently living with HIV.

Statement from Brittany Fonteno, Chief External Affairs Officer, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England:

“Each year, World AIDS Day offers an opportunity to not only honor the memory of those we’ve lost to the AIDS epidemic, but also show support and stand in solidarity with the thousands of people in Connecticut and Rhode Island who are living with HIV and AIDS. With access to proper treatment, care, and community support, people with HIV and AIDS can live long, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

“Anyone can contract HIV, but we know that Black and Latinx people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with low incomes — those who already face barriers to health care due to systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia, and economic inequity — are at a higher risk of infection. As a community health provider, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England (PPSNE) is proud to work alongside our partners and public health agencies to address these disparities and prevent HIV transmission in our communities through STD/STI testing, education and outreach, and access to PrEP and PEP medication at our 15 health centers.

“Everyone deserves access to essential health care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, people living with HIV have the same risk for contracting COVID-19 as those who do not have HIV. However, people with weakened immune systems are more likely to experience severe illness—including those with HIV who are not on effective HIV treatment. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested, and everyone must get tested regularly to know their status.

“People with HIV and AIDS deserve to live free from shame, discrimination, and stigma. Ending the AIDS epidemic requires access to high-quality and affordable sexual and reproductive health care for all people. PPSNE will continue to provide the expert and compassionate care our communities need, no matter what. Today — and every day — we stand in solidarity with those who are living with HIV and AIDS to demand access to the support, resources, and treatment they need to stay healthy.”