World AIDS Day: HIV, COVID-19 epidemics are similar yet starkly different, advocates say

On this World AIDS Day, we remember the 32 million people worldwide who have died since the epidemic began in the early 1980s.

40 years later, COVID 19, a new disease killing people at an alarming rate.

Since March, more than 260,000 people in the US have died.

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HIV/AIDS advocates said the government wasted precious time to save lives in both epidemics.

"We needed a strong government response to combat HIV in the 1980s and we needed a stronger government response about COVID in 2020. I do think the failure of the Reagan administration and the failure of the Trump administration to take HIV and COVID seriously are pretty strong parallels," said Lee Storrow, Executive Director of NC AIDS Action Network.

The difference between the two epidemics -- COVID-19 has a pending vaccine.

"I know HIV is not spread as easily as COVID however it is still an epidemic. It's still something that affects so many people," said Kori Hennessey, with the LGBT Center of Raleigh.

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HIV/AIDS advocates said the disparity is frustrating.

According to the state department of health, more than 34,000 people live with HIV/AIDS. An estimated 4,000 more don't know they have the virus.

Storrow says the stigma around the virus continues to linger.

"The blame that we put on people for contracting HIV actually serves as a barrier for them getting into care," Storrow said.

In North Carolina, new HIV rates are highest among Black men who have sex with men, followed by Latino men, according to the state health department. The CDCestimates that 1 in 2 Black men, who have sex with men, and 1 in 4 Latino men, who have sex with men, will get HIV in their lifetime.

Black women are also disproportionately diagnosed.

Experts say it's these same groups that are at risk for COVID-19.

WATCH: Experts discuss parallels between COVID-19, HIV epidemics on World AIDS Day
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Since the 1980s, 32 million people worldwide have died from AIDS.



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"You have people who have lost access to health insurance because of losing a job and you have people thinking different about their health needs," said Storrow.

Although money is being poured into the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, organizations like the NC AIDS Action Network and Alliance of AIDS Services Carolinas say it's tough finding money to improve access to statewide testing, treatment and prevention for HIV.

"All of us are underfunded, all of us struggle with the day to day because we are trying to figure out how to rob Peter to pay Paul during this COVID crisis," said Melissa Haithcox-Dennis, executive director of Alliance of AIDS Services Carolinas.

These organizations said they could use your financial support on this Giving Tuesday to continue their mission. They are concerned that HIV infections will increase because of lack of access to testing during this pandemic.

Click this link for more information on how and where you can get tested.
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