On World AIDS Day, Columbus man reflects on 30 years of treatments and stigma

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — World AIDS Day brings awareness for AIDS and HIV awareness.

This day pushes a huge message that having AIDS or being HIV positive is not a death sentence, and one Columbus man is living proof.

Graig Cote was diagnosed with HIV 30 years ago. He said when he was 25 years old he kept getting sinus infections, but then his doctor found out he had something else.

Shingles is a neurological disease that usually affects the elderly. Because Cote had it at age 25, it was the first indication he may be HIV positive.

That day changed his life forever.

“I said to my bartender, ‘I don’t want to die,’” said Cote.

For the first five years he only told his boss. He said he wasn’t ready to face his diagnosis head on.

“I wasn’t really dealing with it, because back then people were dying quickly,” said Cote.

For 30 years, Cote has been still living a productive life thanks to advancements in medicine.

“I was taking 52 pills a day,” said Cote. “I’m down to one pill for my HIV now.”

There’s also help for people who are not HIV-positive. The use of protections and a pill called PrEP allows people who are HIV-negative to lower their risk of catching the disease to 92 percent.

According to Columbus Public Health the city of Columbus has lost nearly 2,200 people since the beginning of AIDS epidemic. Right now, nearly 4,600 currently live with the disease. The Center for Disease Control wants those numbers to get lower.

“So with all of these combinations of prevention tools that really helps us to get to what CDC is hoping which is zero new infections,” said Sean Hubert with Columbus Public Health.

Cote says getting tested is very important, but he stresses there also needs to be an emphasis on education.

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