FAYETTEVILE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – It is a struggle many face and few talk about: sexually transmitted diseases, specifically AIDS.
Today, on World AIDS Day, one Arkansan is releasing an audio book, “All the Young Men,” about her experiences and why this epidemic needs to be talked about more.
Ruth Coker Burks is an Arkansan who, for 40 years, has seen the impact of AIDS firsthand.
“In the ten years, I worked with over 1,000 men and I have sat with probably a hundred or more while they took their last breath,” she said.
Burks said her experience with people suffering from AIDS began in the 1980s when she said she was with her friend receiving cancer treatment. It was there that she found a man suffering from AIDS all alone.
“I ended up staying with him for over 13 hours until he took his last breath on this earth,” she said.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, this is still as big of an issue as ever, especially in Arkansas.
“Arkansas was actually selected as one of the seven states to receive federal funding for ending the HIV epidemic, so compared to other rural states our HIV rates are considered high,” said Zeukernah Belo, the HIV Program Manager for the ADH.
Belo said there are over 6,000 people in Arkansas living with HIV. One major concern since the COVID-19 pandemic began is testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
“We have seen a decrease in numbers from previous years and it’s primarily due to the fear of Covid,” Belo said.
But, Burks said it is not just the pandemic.
“If I can say anything it’s the stigma… stigma, stigma, stigma,” Burks said. “That’s what kills people.”
If you would like HIV prevention tools, please visit your nearest Local Health Unit. If you would like to get tested and know your status now, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider, or visit your Local Health Unit. For health unit locations, or more information about HIV-AIDS, visit www.healthy.arkansas.gov.