Organizations and donors raise awareness of HIV / AIDS treatment through 5K

The 36th edition Boston AIDS Walk & Run took place on Sunday at Carson Beach.

Over $ 360,000 has been raised to support HIV / AIDS treatment and prevention.

AIDS action and community health center Fenway Health organize the fundraiser each year, and the proceeds are used to provide vital resources to people living with HIV and HIV prevention efforts. They also support programs that help people with housing and legal services to address the root causes of HIV / AIDS.

Angel Fuentes is the Outreach Services Coordinator within Fenway Health’s Sexual Health and Prevention team. It helps to provide free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases patients who are often members of marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people and their partners.

“The resilience we’ve seen in COVID[-19] The pandemic is showing through these events that we are doing it again, and people are crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, ”Fuentes said. “Personally, it seems very important to me that we are able to bounce back. “

Last year, the event was only held virtually and revenue reached approximately $ 8,000. This year’s total was over $ 360,000, $ 60,000 over the fundraising goal.

(Left to right) Justin Ho, Steven Schwab and Elaine Mann ran for the Tufts Biomedical Queer Alliance. (Photo: Taylor Blackley)

Support for people living with HIV is all the more important as the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc. Likewise, this pandemic has and continues to disproportionately affect Black, Latin, gay, bisexual and transgender populations, as well as people experiencing homelessness or drug addiction, inequitable health structures perpetuate the disproportionate effects of HIV on marginalized groups.

“By working in the STI clinic, we had more people diagnosed with HIV [during the pandemic]”said Fuentes.” These are the individuals who are probably the most disadvantaged … this is really at the center of intersectionality, because the people … who are not privileged, are the ones who are going to suffer the most. more.”

According to the CDC, there are more than 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States today. There are about 35,000 new infections every year.

Fuentes said that since the invention of antiretroviral cocktails in the late 1990s, HIV / AIDS has gone from a “death sentence” to a long-term chronic illness.

“People are living well beyond their sixties, taking the drugs and not having as many complications as they used to be,” Fuentes said. Improvements in HIV treatments mean that people living with the virus can achieve a low enough level of the virus in their blood to be considered undetectable and therefore non-transferable. There are also very effective preventive drugs that people in high-risk populations can take to stop the spread of the virus through sexual contact.

However, the stigma associated with HIV persists.

“There is so much stigma and shame in terms of the lack of education regarding those affected by HIV, as they are often associated with gay men and people who have substance abuse issues,” said Jennease Hyatt, a liaison community for Gilead. Gilead is one of the corporate sponsors of the event and was promoting their campaign, “What we live forWhich hopes to turn stigma into celebration and find a cure.

“We are now at the point where we can treat HIV with a once-a-day pill, taken at any time of the day,” Hyatt said. She said Gilead was present at the event to educate the community about Educational resources that exist on the HIV epidemic.

Another goal of the fundraiser was raising public awareness about HIV / AIDS. Speaking openly about the disease, Fuentes and other health professionals say is one way to fight stigma and ensure more people have access to the health care they need.

“We just have to think of it as something that people live with, just like diabetes, just like heart disease,” Fuentes said. “Just as we have walks for diabetes and cancer, there are walks for HIV and AIDS. “

Steven Schwab participated in the AIDS Walk and Run with a group of friends representing the Queer Biomedical Alliance Tufts, an organization that engages students in advocacy both at school and within the community.

“As future doctors, we think AIDS is incredibly important,” Schwab said of the alliance. Schwab, 24, leads the alliance and is a sophomore student at Tufts University School of Medicine. As someone who hopes to serve a queer and trans population when he begins practicing medicine, Schwab wanted to reflect on this story and give back.

“I don’t feel that social issues, especially around HIV and AIDS [were] sufficiently addressed in our program, ”he said. Schwab believes it is imperative that the next generation of physicians understand the impact of the HIV and AIDS crisis from the perspective of queer and transgender Americans.

CDC data says more than 700,000 people in the United States have died from HIV-related illnesses since the United States began monitoring the epidemic in nineteen eighty one. Schwab said he could have been one of the victims of AIDS, based on the fact that the epidemic has disproportionately ravaged the LGBTQ + community, particularly in decades past, leaving behind lasting trauma in its wake.

But the virus, whose effects can now be mitigated, still poses a threat. If current infection rates continue, up to 1 of 6 gay or bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime. For Hispanic / Latino and Black men who have sex with men, the rates are even more alarming: up to a quarter of gay and bisexual black men and half of their Latino counterparts will be diagnosed with HIV positive.

“I feel a lack of mentorship and leadership around being a cheerful person in society,” Schwab said. “[The run is] a way to personally remind myself of the story that is honestly lost to me and to many of my peers and colleagues.

Jay Critchley helped people select ribbons to write on and add to the collection. (Photo: Taylor Blackley)

A collection of multicolored ribbons waved by the breeze, inscribed with prayers, wishes and tributes. The Prayer ribbons, which commemorate the lives lost to HIV / AIDS and anti-LGBTQ + violence, were a powerful visual statement of the resilience and hope displayed near the start and finish lines of the race.

“It’s to honor the people we love in our lives, those who have passed away, but also the living people who are part of our network,” said Jay Critchley, an artist whose other job also draws attention to social issues.

Critchley, 74, is also the director of Provincetown Community Pact. The pact sponsors the Swim for Life and Paddler Float which takes place annually in Provincetown Harbor. According to Critchley, more than $ 5.5 million has been raised for AIDS and women’s health since Swim for Life began in 1988.

“This is the first time we’ve been invited, so we’re very honored to be here,” said Critchley. A special thread of ribbons grew throughout the day as people added their personal messages to over 4,000 others. The ribbons waving in the ocean breeze carried a loving memory and wishes of all who have added to the facility since 1993.

The prayer ribbons communicated this important social message in a political manner, as they were displayed at State House and in a Congressional office building in the nation’s capital.

There are ribbons for the 49 victims of the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There are ribbons for the victims of the AIDS epidemic. Although there are many ribbons dedicated to people in the LGBTQ + community, Critchley said they are for everyone.

The fight to end HIV and AIDS and the stigma associated with the virus is a fight in which anyone can participate. In order to make a difference in the lives of those living with HIV and to prevent new infections, the general public can work in community with marginalized populations who have been most affected. the power of this alliance in action.

According to Critchley, “We’re all homosexual in our own way, aren’t we? ”

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