Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The understanding of HIV/AIDS has come a long way from how it was viewed in past decades. World AIDS Day highlights some of the stigma that still exists and prevents a lot of people from getting tested or treated for the disease.
"I just I honestly thought, I'm going to die," said Billy Duckett, who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2014.
Duckett was diagnosed with Syphilis in 2012. He says his doctor encouraged him to get tested for HIV, but he decided against it.
"I was too scared to," Duckett said, "I was scared of the stigma, I didn't know if there was treatment so I ignored it."
That is when he says his health rapidly declined. When he finally got tested, the doctor confirmed what he already knew.
"I have a huge, a large family, and I told them, 'look, I have AIDS, I'm going to die,' and it was very, very scary," Duckett said.
What he did not know, is that the diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.
"Medications that are out now, that are allowing people not only to live healthy lives, but also to suppress the production of HIV," said Dr. Bambi Gaddist, the executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council.
Gaddist says in the past decade, HIV cases been growing, more so with young African-American men.
"In Columbia, South Carolina, they projected that 1 in 2 African-American males who identify as gay are at risk for HIV," Gaddist said.
That is half of the gay, African American male population. The CDC's website lists a risk for 1 in 4 gay Latino men, and 1 in 11 gay Caucasian men.
"There's so much stigma," Gaddist said, "people are afraid to get tested. People are afraid even after diagnosis to come and get treatment."
"Should something happen and I need CPR, I just know there's so many people who'd be like, 'oh, he's got the virus, and I'm not going to give him the CPR,'" Duckett said, "so the stigma is there."
That is why Dr. Gaddist says one of their biggest goals is reshaping how people look at the disease.