NewsCovering Kern County


Local advocate diagnosed with HIV at the height of AIDS epidemic educates community

Posted at 7:54 AM, Dec 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-02 11:41:32-05

Standing at over 6-foot-tall and a strong physical stature, it's hard to tell just by looking at Martin Sharp that he's living with HIV -- and has been for the past 30 years. 


Sharp was tested in 1987, after learned his partner had been diagnosed with AIDS.


Born and raised in Bakersfield, Sharp worked as a Bakersfield Police Officer and Kern County Sheriff's Deputy.


At 35-years-old Martin became infected during the height of the AIDS epidemic. 


"I've never had AIDS. I've been very fortunate to do all the right things," said Sharp. "Everybody I knew in the AIDS community had full blown AIDS - everybody. There was nobody that was HIV positive except me."


Sharp never imagined he'd live this long. 


"I never thought I'd see 50 because at the time I was diagnosed it was a death sentence and I figured okay in about 10 years I'm going to get sick and I'm going to be dead in three to five years after that," said Sharp.


But in the 35 years that AIDS has been around, there's been tremendous strides in prevention education, awareness and advancements in treatment. 


Dr. Franco Felizarta, a local HIV and infectious disease specialist, says these advancements have lead to a significant decrease in HIV and AIDS-related deaths. 


"Before, nationally, maybe about 50,000 patients would die every year because of HIV," said Dr. Felizarta. "Now it's about 7,000."


While we continue to see a decline in the number of people dying from AIDS, there are more than 2,000 Kern County residents living with the deadly disease. 


Officials with the Kern County Health Department also say more people under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with the deadly disease in the past 5 years than any other 5-year period. 


"We're doing a great job in decreasing mortality hut were not doing a great job in decreasing transmission," said Dr. Felizarta. 


But there's a new HIV prevention pill aimed at reducing the risk of becoming infected. It's called PrEP. 


Natasha Elkins, Planned Parenthood Community Health Educator, urges anyone that believes they may be at-risk of HIV exposure seek more information. 


"PrEP is very useful for anyone that is in a partnership with anyone that is currently HIV positive or perhaps someone that is actively partaking in high risk sexual behaviors," said Elkins. 


Elkins also recommends HIV-testing annually or whenever you change sex partners.


"That's just so you know your status before engaging in sex with someone else," said Elkins.


It is this type of education that Sharp hopes will save lives. 


"I've watched 50 of my friends die. 30 of them were in their 20s when they died," said Sharp. "Of those people nobody died pretty. Nobody died nice. If you watch somebody die of AIDS it is not nice, it is not pretty, it is not fun."


For more information on HIV/AIDS awareness or where to go for testing visit Planned Parenthood, The Kern County Public Health Department, or Bakersfield AIDS Project.