NEW YORK -- Thursday is World AIDS Day, a day to remember those who died due to AIDS-related complications and an opportunity to uplift the lives of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
"I was told I was HIV-positive, and in the same breath, my doctor said get your affairs in order, you have an average of two to three years to live," Brooklyn resident Alejandro Santiago said.
That was back in 1992 when Santiago was 33 years old, and the HIV/AIDS crisis was sweeping across the nation.
"I pretty much waited to get sick and die," Santiago told CBS2's John Dias.
But it's more than just luck this Brooklyn man has to thank for his life; he says it's his resilient mindset, medication that continues to advance and, "The fear sometimes just makes you move forward."
While Santiago still wakes up every morning happy to be alive, he admits certain fears never fade, especially when the COVID pandemic consumed the world and, recently, the MPV outbreak in America. He says all of it brought back terrible memories.
"'Oh my god, if I get this, am I going to die within 30 days, a year, et cetera," Santiago said.
During World AIDS Day, many people like Santiago will be observing the day of reflection even more profoundly.
According to the World Health Organization, since the beginning of the epidemic, 84.2 million people have been infected with HIV and nearly 40.1 million have died.
HIV.gov says around 1.2 million Americans have HIV, but around 13% of them don't know it and need testing. The Manhattan-based organization GMHC is here to help with that, and then some.
"When new medications came into view in the mid-'90s, our clients living with HIV and AIDS began to live longer," said Krishna Stone, director of community relations for GMHC.
On the national level, President Joe Biden's administration re-established the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. On World AIDS Day last year, he made a bold promise.
"To end the HIV epidemic in the United States by the year 2030, that's the goal," Biden said.
Back here at home, many long-term survivors, like Denise Drayton, say that will only happen if we end the stigma that is tied to HIV and AIDS.
"You could survive and you can thrive. You can live well. You don't have to be isolated," Drayton said.
On this World AIDS Day, many who are impacted are hoping others recognize their fight and will to survive.
In 2019, it's estimated almost 35,000 new HIV infections occurred in the U.S. The highest rates of new diagnoses continue to occur in the South.
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