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Weekend walk puts HIV/AIDS in spotlight

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jack Mackenroth claims a wedding dress he recently worked on for an HIV/AIDS awareness event in San Francisco is "probably the safest wedding dress ever."

Mackenroth, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1990, and also was a contestant in the fourth season of the television show "Project Runway," took 2,500 condom wrappers and glued them to what previously was a traditional wedding dress.

The designer came to Atlanta on Friday to launch this year's AIDS Walk Atlanta with a reception at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta. The event was called Living Positive By Design, which also is the name of an HIV/AIDS awareness group that Mackenroth runs.

"In the 1980s, you didn't have to drive home the point because you saw the effects AIDS was having on homeless people who were living in the streets," said Mackenroth. "We now live in a much different environment. Because [of the medications available] it's become harder to see. [As a result,] we have to reinforce the steps to treat HIV."

The AIDS Walk Atlanta will be held on Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m., at Piedmont Park. The walk is a benefit for AID Atlanta, an HIV/AIDS support organization which financially supports AIDS-related research. Last year's event raised $1.03 million for AIDS research.

Officials from AIDS Walk Atlanta could not be reached for comment on Friday. A voice mail said the staff was out of the office, preparing for Sunday's walk. Leaders from local teams in Clayton and Henry counties could not be reached for comment, either.

Several teams from Clayton State University, created by employees of Clayton State Internet Radio; students in the School of Nursing; members of the Mock Trial Association, and fraternities and sororities will participate in the walk, according to the AIDS Walk Atlanta web site. The Henry County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority also is listed as a participant.

People who want to make a donation, and any other individual participating in the walk, can search the Internet for the http://www.aidswalkatlanta.com/ AIDS Walk Atlanta web site.

There were 10,233 HIV-positive individuals living in Georgia as of 2006, and another 18,667 people had AIDS, according to data from the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health. There were 1,208 new cases of HIV, and 427 new cases of AIDS, reported in Georgia during that same year, according to the state's data.

African Americans are being hit the hardest in the state, with the group making up 80 percent of all new HIV cases, and 74 percent of new AIDS cases in 2006, according to the Department of Human Resources.

Jeffrey Stephens, a professor of internal medicine at the Mercer University School of Medicine, was one of the speakers at the Living Positive By Design event on Friday. In a statement released before the event took place, Stephens said he chose to get involved with the organization to help raise HIV and AIDS awareness.

"This program encourages conversations about HIV and highlights to those living with the disease that talking to their physicians about a treatment option that minimizes side effects and gets their viral load to an undetectable level is critical," said Stephens.

Clayton County is being hit particularly hard by a rise in new HIV cases. The county -- which has its own health district under the Georgia Department of Human Resources -- went from 30 new HIV cases in 2005, to 67 new HIV cases in 2006, according to data from the state.

The state recorded 349 people living with HIV in Clayton County, and another 576 residents with AIDS.

The LaGrange District, which includes Henry County, saw a drop from 59 new HIV cases in 2005, to 47 new cases in 2006, according to the state's data. The state's data shows 353 people living with HIV live in the LaGrange district as of 2006, while another 546 people there have AIDS.

Besides Henry, the LaGrange district includes Butts, Carroll, Coweta, Fayette, Heard, Lamar, Meriwether, Pike, Spalding, Troup and Upson counties.

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On the net:

AIDS Walk Atlanta:

www.aidswalkatlanta.com