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New England Cities Commemorate World AIDS Day

by Joe Siegel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Dec 6, 2011

Buildings in downtown Boston and Providence were illuminated red on Thursday, Dec. 1, to commemorate World AIDS Day, while other events took place throughout the region to honor those who lost their battle with the virus.

In Boston, a candlelight vigil was held outside U.S. Sen. John Kerry's office. The event featured speakers from student organizations at Boston area schools, from Partners in Health and from the Student Global AIDS Campaign.

An estimated 34 million people are currently living with HIV. Nearly half of all people with the virus-6.6 million-who are eligible for treatment now have access to them.

Deborah Birx of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Max Essex of the Harvard School of Public Health; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health; Elly Katabira of the International AIDS Society; Chip Lyons of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; Zimbabwean Health Minister Angela Mushavi; Nancy Padian, coordinator of the U.S. Global AIDS Office and Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute all participated in the AIDS@30 seminar at the Harvard School of Public Health on Dec. 1-2.

"Now that the end of AIDS may be possible, it's time to pause and reflect, then regroup and redouble our efforts," said Dr. Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. "We have invested so much we can't afford to slow down now."

Boston Medical Center held its own World AIDS Day event in the Shapiro Ambulatory Care Center Lobby, which featured numerous testimonials from patients living with HIV/AIDS.

An informational health fair was also held, and a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display.

"This year marks the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. One thing we've learned over the last three decades fighting the epidemic is that we have to invest in programs that keep people healthy, said Rebecca Haag, president and CEO of AIDS Action Committee, who noted that new HIV diagnoses have declined 59 percent over the last decade in the commonwealth. "This has saved more than 4,000 people who might otherwise have become infected untold suffering, and the state will save more than $1.6 billion in health care costs. At the same time, the number of people living with HIV in Massachusetts has increased 42 percent over the last decade."

AIDS Project Rhode Island offered free walk-in HIV testing all day at their Providence officers. The Rhode Island State House was among the 17 buildings in downtown Providence that were lit up in red to promote RED, an initiative to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa.

A ceremony featuring music, poetry and speeches from medical professionals took place at the Providence Biltmore.

Doctor Nicole Alexander, medical director in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology at the Rhode Island Department of Health, noted what she called "staggering disparities" in the rates of HIV among African Americans and Latinos. She stressed the importance of providing access to medical treatment for these groups, hoping it would be "available and routine."

The rate of new infections was a "steady drumbeat;" said Dr. Josiah Rich, an infectious disease specialist at Providence's Miriam Hospital. He pointed out that 25 percent of people with HIV were unaware of their status.

"We need to encourage testing," said Rich. "People are scared of the outcomes. We need to change that culture."

J.R. Pagliarini, a spokesperson for Mayor Angel Taveras, applauded HIV/AIDS service organizations, while First Lady Stephanie Chafee noted there are 100 new cases of HIV reported in the state each year.

Chafee was a nurse who treated people with AIDS during the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980s. She noted progress has been made in the fight against the virus, but stressed there was still a lot of work to do.

"We've made a step forward," said Chafee, adding she hoped the rate of new HIV infections could be brought down to zero.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.


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