More than 33,000 North Carolinians are living with HIV, and that number is growing every year. A statewide public health campaign is working to raise awareness and offer free testing. Nineteen-year-old Chris Cromartie makes it a point to get tested for HIV every year. "It's good to know you don't have HIV or AIDS, so I just do it just to do it." Cromartie got a free HIV test at the New Hanover County Health Department Friday as part of the ‘Get Real, Get Tested’ campaign. It's a statewide effort that offers free testing and education about HIV and AIDS The continued increase in HIV cases shows education is needed. "We're seeing an average of 1800 to 1900 new cases of HIV being reported each year,” said campaign coordinator Holly Watkins. Of the state's 100 counties, New Hanover County ranks 11th for newly diagnosed HIV cases. Sharema Williams, who oversees HIV education at New Hanover County's Health Department, said 50 to 60 new cases are reported each year. Not only does she invite people to come by for information and testing, but she and her team are going door to door to raise awareness. “We still have that stigma, which we will probably always have that stigma. Individuals would rather not know their status because they figure it's still as a death sentence,” Williams said. Williams reported that those with HIV and AIDS are living longer than ever before thanks to medications and for those being proactive and getting tested, like Cromartie, it's a weight off their shoulders. “It's good to know you don't have it and it's bad to know if you do have it and you're not getting tested and you still know you have it, but it's always safe to get tested." The New Hanover County Health Department always offers free HIV testing. The Get Real, Get Tested campaign is continuing tomorrow; they'll be at the New Hanover Community Health Center on Fourth Street from 9:00am to noon.
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