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Halifax Doctors, Volunteers Seek HIV Carriers

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Doctors hope to treat HIV patients before they come down with full-blown AIDS.
ROANOKE RAPIDS — It's been more than 10 years since scientists discovered AIDS, but manypeople living with the virus still suffer from the stigma associated withit. That's one reason doctors say about 90% of AIDS victims never seekhelp. Now volunteers are working with professionals in two communities toget help to the people who need it.

In rural communities like Halifax County, many people don't know they haveHIV until physical problems force them into the emergency room. So, doctors and a small group of AIDS patients are looking for people who havethe virus but don't know it.

They believe that combining compassion with medical know-how will lead more AIDS patients to the help they need.

"They understand what it's like to be shunned," explains social workerKathy Knight, "and for people to kind of turn their back on you, and theywant to help. So, their way of helping is to gain knowledge and to go outand spread that knowledge."

Halifax Memorial Hospital teamed up with the health departments in Halifaxand Northampton Counties to get the program running. They can treat AIDSpatients themselves, but need the volunteers to bring the patients in.

Doctor Chris Szwagiel hopes the outreach workers will win the patients'trust and convince them to seek professional help.

As word on the street gets out, Knights expects new patients to come in. Patients can lead more productive lives by catching the virus before itkills them.

The group just received a grant from a charitable organization in WinstonSalem. That money should keep the program running for a year. If theprogram succeeds, organizers hope county commissioners will help pick upthe tab.

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