by: Leland Kim
HONOLULU (KHNL) - 25 million people throughout the world have died of AIDS in the past 25 years. Close to 40 million live with HIV. About a million are Americans, and 3,000 are here in Hawaii.
To mark World AIDS Day, organizers put together a health fair at Tamarind Park. More than a dozen health and non-profit groups set up shop there. The goal of World AIDS Day is to increase awareness, while fighting the negative stigma about HIV and AIDS. The event started in 1988.
And for one man, World AIDS Day has personal meaning. He is HIV positive, and on a mission to educate others.
Rommel Marcelino is a healthy 41-year-old with a loving girlfriend. He is also HIV positive.
"I told myself then, I'm either going to let this get to me or make the best of it," Marcelino said.
He found out when he was just 19-years-old when he was engaged.
"I was afraid I was going to die right away, just like all my friends did," he said. "I mean they did, literally within five years after my diagnosis."
The toughest part was telling his family.
"My one older sister who, we're like very tight, she cried. But everyone else was more like, they were listening," he said.
They listened and supported him. Rommel has stayed healthy all these years. He takes five pills in the morning and four at night. His mission now is to educate others.
"There's still a lack of communication going on," he said. "People are still afraid to talk about it. You have nothing to lose by talking about it. You have everything to gain."
With 2007 just around the corner, Rommel often reflects.
"Every new year that comes, I think, you know. I always think to myself, is this the year?" he said.
He hopes the message of safe sex reaches everyone in Hawaii.
"If you're going to practice sex, always use a condom," he said. "It only takes once."