Knowing your status could save your life - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Knowing your status could save your life

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Shehan Welihindha talks about living with HIV Shehan Welihindha talks about living with HIV

It was the worst news of their lives.

"I was diagnosed with HIV in 2004 and I was a junior in college," said Shehan Welihindha. "It was one of those things as a young person, you think it's not going to happen to me and it did."

Welihindha has been living with the virus for eight years.

"I knew nothing about HIV until it was a part of my life."

A woman who does not want to be identified said the man who infected her six years ago knew he had HIV.

"He knew but he was like, 'What's wrong with having HIV or AIDS?'" she said. "When he said that I'm like, 'There's nothing right with it?  It's a lot wrong with it and you did wrong by cutting my life short.'"

These are just two stories of two people surviving every day.

"There's still a lot of stigma around HIV and that is what is killing us that we don't talk openly about HIV," said Carmen Julious with the Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services Center.

Julious said people can live healthy lives if they get medical care and if they're educated about the illness.

"There's so much stigma associated with HIV," said Welihindha. "It's historically a gay disease but it affects everyone. It does not discriminate in any way."

Welihindha uses his personal experience to help educate young people about HIV through the Youth Empowered Against HIV program.

"As a young person you always think you are invincible," he said. "Well, it happened to me so it can happen to anyone. You don't think about the bad things that can happen to you. You don't think about how this could be something that could change your life."

Justin Wise is a youth leader with the same program.  He helps educate through classes and condoms.

"No one can change their status" he said.

But knowing your status can change your life and help you live it.

"I hate to say it was what made me into who I am but it really has," said Welihindha. "It gave me a different perspective. It gave me an appreciation for life."

South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation for the number of AIDS cases. 15,000 people in the state are living with HIV or AIDS.

Worldwide, an estimated 60 million people have been infected with the virus.  One million live in the United States.

Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services Center

Harriet Hancock LGBT Center

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