Speakers, posters and information about HIV and AIDS were presented Saturday at a vigil for World AIDS Day.

The vigil at the Chetco Community Public Library was sponsored by the Curry County Coalition, formerly known as the HIV/AIDS Task Force.

The posters were part of a contest sponsored by the coalition and featured the theme of this years day, We care, do you?

Brookings Dr. James Norland spoke at the meeting about AIDS and the lack of prominence it has in the social consciousness.

AIDS has taken a real back burner to anthrax for the public, Norland said. He said the United States is isolated from the rest of the world in terms of public health because the country has up-to-date medical information, drugs and tools. Many other countries do not, he said.

Norland cited West Africa as an example of a place where the lack of medical care and medical sophistication has caused the rapid spread of HIV. He told the story of working in a medical clinic in South Africa where needles were sprayed with a substance similar to Listerine and were then re-used.

He said people who came into the clinic had a 50 percent chance of being infected with HIV because of the way the virus rapidly spreads in the area.

Norland said a large problem with HIV and AIDS is in the way people think about them now because of the medications available to treat them.

People think you take some pills and youre OK, he said. They dont understand the strict medical regimen.

Norland said the schedule for the drugs is very difficult to follow and there are a large number of pills to be taken.

In terms of the way people think, The idea that it is a simple chronic disease is probably where we stand, Norland said.

He added that he is concerned that what is happening in Africa may happen in the U.S. as well.

The future of AIDS is what is happening in West Africa and if its going to come to the U.S.

Hopefully, there will be some technical breakthrough or a better ability to (medically) respond, he said.

Norland said a second concern for him is whether there would be the same kind of social response as there was in the late 1980s if the disease was to rapidly spread here as it has in Africa.

He related the story of the group Act Up, which was a collection of AIDS patients in the 1980s who felt their needs and the disease werent getting enough attention. One of the groups ways of getting attention was throwing condoms at a Catholic Church during Mass.

Norland said that act gave great coverage to the group and the disease.

The activism that came out of the HIV epidemic was really impressive and successful.

My concern is whether we are going to have the response we had in the late 80s like Act Up - these militant voices to pursue it, he said.

The next speaker was Katherine Mueller, chaplain for Curry County Home Health and Hospice.

She spoke on how the success in medical treatment has put the issue on the back burner.

Ironically, its our success that has added to our indifference, she said.

Mueller also spoke on the importance of having compassion for people living with the disease.

Compassion is more than just a feeling...its a choice, an action, a decision to do something, she said.

She added, This illness challenges us as human beings. It poses the questions How will we act, how will we choose?

After the speeches, the approximately 15 attendees formed a circle and spoke about what they can do to honor the theme We care, do you?

(I can) keep the issue alive and make sure folks know that no matter what your sexual preference, you can still get this, said Lucie La Bont, Curry County commissioner.

Barbara Floyd, county public health director, said education is a way she can encourage the theme.

I encourage opportunities for staff to take advantage of training opportunities so when people come to our offices, we have accurate information and advice, she said.

Wright Kunkle, a nurse with Home Health and Hospice, agreed that education is important.

The elderly feel they are immune, he said.

He added that general education is also important.

AIDS is alive and well here in Brookings. I sat with a young man recently who died of AIDS in Brookings, he said.

The vigil was organized by Sally BarronKunkle, a member of the coalition.

She said the goal of the coalition is to get into the schools.

It seems the kids do have a great knowledge, but they still dont feel vulnerable, she said.

A lot of repetition (is important). Letting them know how they can get it, she said.

BarronKunkle said there are teachers who are friendly to the concept of letting the coalition into their classrooms, but nothing is pushed on anyone.

We try not to push anything. We dont want to make enemies or go against school policies, she said.

For information on the coalition, HIV and AIDS, call the Curry County Health Department at (541) 247-3300.