Since 1988 when World AIDS Day was conceived by the World Health Organization, people around the globe have made Dec. 1 a time to raise awareness about the pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 617,000 people in the U.S. and 30 million worldwide since its beginnings 30 years ago.
In Atlanta and Georgia, numerous events are planned including free HIV testing by AIDS service organizations and health departments. This year’s theme is “Getting to Zero” — zero new infections, zero AIDS cases and zero stigma.
But remembering AIDS for one day out of the year is not enough, said Michael Baker, director of development for Positive Impact in Atlanta, an organization that focuses on culturally competent mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and risk reduction services to those who are affected by HIV.
“I wish it got more attention. Having just one day allows people to take part in some events and say, ‘I did my part.’ The truth is you do your part every time you have sex and do it safely,” he said.
Gay and bisexual men continue to be the demographic with the highest HIV infections each year, according to statistics from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Last year, the CDC ranked Atlanta as No. 8 among the nation’s metro areas in its ratio of HIV infections to overall population.
The numbers prove the need for organizations such as Positive Impact, AID Atlanta, the Ric Crawford Clinic in Gwinnett County (formerly AID Gwinnett), the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta, and others.
AID Atlanta is the largest ASO provider in the Southeast and Positive Impact’s numbers have grown from serving 135 people when the doors opened in 1993 to serving some 5,000 people this year, Baker said.
Several AIDS organizations provided HIV testing during this year’s Atlanta Pride in October. Baker said 730 people were tested with 2.24 percent testing positive, or approximately 16 people, including one heterosexual female.
“That’s pretty high for an event like that,” Baker said. “Typically at events we get no positives. We were very surprised.”
Baker said Positive Impact tests approximately 350-400 clients per month with 5.5 percent testing positive, or approximately 22 people per month. That’s on track with the national trend, he said. But the focus on reducing that positivity rate is an ongoing battle in Georgia and around the world.
In the U.S., more and more young people, especially young gay and bisexual men, are testing positive, Baker said.
Internalized homophobia and low self esteem play a role in people having risky sex, he said. For example, if someone is going to have sex with someone he believes to be more attractive, he is likely to not use a condom, Baker added.
“I recently saw on a billboard that made me think. It said, ‘AIDS began one person at a time and it will end one person at a time.’ And I think that’s true. I think AIDS will end when we love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves,” he said.
Events remember, honor, raise funds
This year on World AIDS Day, Positive Impact benefits from the sixth annual ARTvision Atlanta. The fundraiser, previously held primarily online, moved to Dec. 1 for its first year as a standalone event. It features fine art for sale, entertainment, cocktails and food with 100 percent of proceeds going to Positive Impact.
Another new World AIDS Day event this year is the Remembrance Ride, a 30 mile bike ride to mark the 30th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. The event is sponsored by Action Cycling, which also organizes the longer Vaccine Ride in the spring, to benefit the Emory Vaccine Ride.
The 30-mile ride through the Emory area will be followed by a reception held in the University Living Room, located on the third floor of the Oxford Road Building. The reception will recognize all the progress made thus far in developing an HIV/AIDS vaccine and the work still to be accomplished.
AID Atlanta hosts “Woven Together: 30 Years of Fighting HIV/AIDS” on Dec. 1 at Piedmont Park’s Magnolia Hall to recognize volunteers, members and staff. AID Atlanta is also one of several organizations joining with the National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities to offer free HIV testing at Atlanta’s City Hall on World AIDS Day.
Other participating organizations include Aniz Inc., Atlanta Harm Reduction Center Inc., Citywide Projects Inc., Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, Georgia Department of Public Health, Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center, My Brother’s Keeper Inc., Vitamen, Southeast AIDS Training and Education Center and Traxx Atlanta.
Schedule for the World AIDS Day program at Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 1:
11 a.m. — Greetings from Rudolph Carn, founder and CEO of NAESM
11:03 a.m. — Invocation by Kenneth Samuel, senior pastor and organizer for Victory for the World Church
11:08 a.m. — Remarks by Candace Byrd, chief of staff for Mayor Kasim Reed
11:14 a.m. — Remarks by Leisha McKinley-Beach, Southern Regional Coordinator Black AIDS Institute
11:23 a.m. — Closing remarks by Dr. Earl Joyner
11:35 a.m. — Thank you remarks by Winston Liburd, chief financial officer of NAESM
Schedule for 24-hour MODA World AIDS Day program on Dec. 1:
12 a.m. — Opening reception
1 a.m. — Poetry reading by Atlanta Queer Literary Festival
2 a.m. — Dance Party with DJ Mike Beaver of B2 Entertainment
5 a.m. — Film Screening of “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt”
7 a.m. — Breakfast with music from members of the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra
9 a.m. — “Stories of the Quilt,” written and presented by SCAD Atlanta students, and Docent Guided Tours of MODA’s exhibitions
12 p.m. — Lunch and “Stories of the Quilt” with Gert McMullin of The NAMES Project Foundation
1 p.m. — Quilting & Craft Workshop with The NAMES Project Foundation
4 p.m. — Georgia State University School of Music Opera presents “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gean Carlo Menotti
5:30 p.m. — Lecture by Dr. Andres Camacho-Gonzalez – “We’ve Come a Long Way (But We Have a Long Way to Go): An Historical Perspective on HIV/AIDS Prevention & Treatment”
7 p.m. — Performance by Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra
8 p.m. — Brian Clowdus and Serenbe Playhouse Divas present “Glitter and Be Gay” and a sneak preview of the ladies of “A Diva’s Christmas”
9 p.m. — Drag performance by The Armorettes
10:30 p.m. — Zoetic Dance Ensemble performs throughout the MODA galleries
11:30 p.m. — Candlelight Vigil with musical performance by Timothy Boyd Miller