MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - People around the world are focusing on HIV/AIDS as part of World AIDS Day, which is meant to raise awareness.
Organizations and schools like Wooddale High School are taking part, hosting programs and events. Students and teachers at the school learned that an estimated 35 million people have died from HIV/AIDS, making it one of the most destructive diseases in history.
Through speeches and skits, students were encouraged to become more aware of HIV/AIDS and how it can spread.
Mayor A C Wharton and Representative G.A. Hardaway also held an event in which they both took HIV tests, hoping it would encourage others to do the same.
"Also to let folks know that testing is free, it's confidential, it's painless," added Mayor A C Wharton. "It's just a swab, not drawing blood."
For Representative Hardaway, testing and awareness events are the first step in beating the disease.
"Well, I knew that dying was not an option for me," said Mildred Richard, who is living with HIV/AIDS. "And my kids is where I got my strength."
Mildred Richard was diagnosed in 2001, the same day she delivered a child. She said a test doctors did while she was in the hospital informed her she was HIV positive.
"Oh, it was a day I didn't want to do anything other than die!" Richard recalled.
Richard says it took her about a year to gain the courage to fight the disease. Now, she works for Friends for Life, the local agency that provides counseling and guidance for people battling HIV/AIDS.
"I want them to understand that there is life after death," said Richard. She wants everyone, from students to adults, to hear that message.
Richard is just one of 16,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS in Tennessee. In fact, 38 percent of those people live in Shelby County.
"That's very important as we push the education, the awareness, and the importance of not only knowing your sexual history but your status," explained Elizabeth Hart of the Shelby County Health Department. "The most important part is knowing your status and whether or not you do have HIV."
All month long, the Shelby County Health Department is offering free testing at its main office at 814 Jefferson Ave and its public health clinic locations.