NEW YORK — Thursday is World AIDS Day, and for the first time since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the names of New Yorkers we’ve lost were read at a memorial in the West Village.
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reports, while today is a day to remember, it’s also a day to raise awareness about the ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS.
The names of more than 100,000 New Yorkers lost to the AIDS epidemic were read at the memorial on Greenwich Avenue. There are so many, it takes hours with multiple people simultaneously speaking.
“That number goes up every year. And while it’s certainly slowed and there have been incredible advances in medical technology and community activism that have allowed people to live longer, healthier lives, AIDS is certainly not over,” said Dave Harper, executive director of the New York City AIDS Memorial.
“Reminding our new governor, Governor Hochul and our new mayor and the rest of the city and the state, we still have more work to do if we’re going to end AIDS as an epidemic,” said Charles King, chief executive officer of Housing Works.
“I found out that I was HIV positive in 1989,” said Valerie Reyes-Jimenez, New York City community organizer for Housing Works.
She says back then, it felt like a death sentence.
“Pretty much told me that I needed to get my affairs in order,” she said.
She had a will drawn up and thought about who would raise her children. She’s now 57 years old.
“I’ve been on medication for well over 30 years,” Reyes-Jimenez said. “I have a 20-year-old granddaughter who is like the light of my life and something that I never imagined I was ever going to have or see or experience … People who are being newly diagnosed nowadays have a much better outlook on life, the medications that we have, the treatment that’s available.”
But she says there’s still a stigma attached to the diagnosis.
“What people are uneducated about is what people mostly are afraid of or nervous about,” she said.
Watch Alice Gainer’s report
After the reading of the names, there was also a candlelight vigil and march with additional speakers and performances, continuing to remember and raise awareness.
“Each number is a life … Imagine the person who you love the most in your life. Imagine that person being healthy on Monday and dead by the weekend,” City Councilmember Erik Bottcher said.
New York City has been the epicenter in the fight against AIDS for 40 years, and the fight continues.
“Despite new treatments and modes of prevention, HIV continues to be a pandemic,” said Darryl Cochrane, with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
According to the World Health Organization, roughly 38 million people are living with HIV, 1.2 million of them in the United States.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reports, medical experts say despite the progress, inequities in treatment persist.
“We’re continuing to see enormous racial and ethnic disparities, as well as some regional disparities that concern us,” said David Huebner, professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University.
Equal access to testing and treatment is the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day.
“We’re fortunate that now we have access to more powerful tools for preventing and treating HIV than we ever have at any point in the epidemic. The critical thing is that we get those tools into the hands of people who need them the most,” Huebner said.
Meanwhile, landmarks around the state, including the Mario Cuomo Bridge, were lit red in honor of World AIDS Day.
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