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I met my friend George at least 20 years ago while I was writing a book on alternative healing. George was living in San Francisco and he had been diagnosed with AIDS. At the time, his doctor basically told him to go home and get ready to die. But George wasn't ready for that and he started fighting back, learning all he could about other healing and how he might still live a long, healthy life. 

George began learning Qigong — a form of energy healing through movement — and it helped him feel better, stronger. In time, George produced a training video for people with AIDS, so they too could feel better. Soon he was teaching classes for a modified form of Qigong, one that was easier for weakened people to handle.

All these years have passed and George is still doing well and holding his own, he still has AIDS.

Friday was World AIDS Day and I think of George and the hope he brought to others.

And it is heartening to discover that the incidence of HIV infections has fallen to historic lows in New York.

But there is a difference between HIV and AIDS. HIV is a virus that can lead to an infection. HIV infection can develop into AIDS when HIV damages the immune system and the individual cannot fight damaging invaders like pneumonia, TB and cancer.

So reducing the number of HIV infections means there will hopefully be fewer cases of AIDS.

New York State Department of Health statistics reported in 2017, there are 2,942 people living with HIV or AIDS or both in the Albany region that includes Washington and Warren counties. 

Nonetheless, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office, in 2016 the number of new HIV diagnoses dropped nine percent: From 3,163 in 2015, to 2,881 in 2016.

In New York, new HIV infection diagnoses among gay and bisexual men fell 12 percent and new diagnoses among young people (20 to 24) dropped 20 percent.  

To make sure the prognosis continues on a positive path, the governor has committed more than $20 million in additional funding for DOH HIV policies and programs that include streamlining HIV testing; facilitating access to syringe exchange; enabling minors to consent for HIV prevention and care services; expanding data sharing to enhance linkage to care; and expanding access to affordable housing for persons with HIV.

These changes mean that people are better informed than they were 20 years ago; that fewer will contract the HIV virus and that those diagnosed will get the help and support they need before HIV leads to AIDS.

And as I think of my friend, who never gave up despite his initial bleak AIDS diagnosis, I am heartened to see this change and to know that fewer people will have to experience what George did all those years ago. 

Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at kphalen-tomaselli@poststar.com for comments or story ideas. 

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