Why this year's AIDS Walk Wisconsin is crucial
Currently in Wisconsin, there are approximately 6,300 people living with HIV / AIDS and potentially another 1,500 that are undiagnosed. Last year, there was a 19 percent increase in people diagnosed with HIV in Wisconsin.
"It's really an alarming trend," says Mike Gifford, the CEO of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW).
According to Gifford, the number of people diagnosed with HIV peaked in the early '90s, but throughout the decade, the numbers steadily decreased until almost cut in half. Then, in the early 2000s, the numbers started to plateau, but in very recent years, started to spike again.
Many of the new HIV patients are young males, particularly African American males, who did not see the first wave of the epidemic and therefore may be less educated about or less fearful of the virus.
"They don't remember or weren't alive when Magic Johnson came out and announced his HIV status," says Gifford.
Another reason why AIDS might be on the rise is because some people believe it's no longer deadly. It's true that thanks to modern medicine and very aggressive treatment regimes, such as the Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) "cocktail," that many people are living longer and healthier lives with the virus, but people are still dying from it.
Gifford recently lost a good friend whose battle with AIDS ended after living with the virus for two decades.
As most are aware by now, HIV / AIDS infects all types of people regardless of sexual orientation, race or age. Gifford says just a little more than 50 percent of the people living with HIV / AIDS in Wisconsin are gay males, which means just less than 50 percent are not. For example, one in four patients is a woman.
"There's a growing number of people being diagnosed who are in the 18-24 age range," he says.
In March 2011, the ARCW Pharmacy opened to address the needs of patients and in its first few months, the pharmacy served more than 860 patients. The organization has also developed a medication assistance program, which will provide financial assistance for more than 12,000 prescriptions at a cost of $210,000 in its first year of operation.
And even though one-third of all Wisconsin people with AIDS / HIV do not have medical insurance, the need for people to have access to medical care and medication is non-negotiable.
This is one of the reasons why AIDS Walk Wisconsin is crucial for the health of the community.
"We need to generate the resources so everyone – everyone – has access to the care and medications that will keep them alive," says Gifford.
This year, AIDS Walk Wisconsin is Saturday, Oct. 6 on the Summerfest grounds. Registration starts at 10 a.m., the opening ceremonies are at noon and the walk begins at 12:30 p.m. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers is the 2012 honorary chairperson of the event.
The 5K walk (which is a little more than three miles) has a slightly new course this year but still meanders along the lakefront, past the Milwaukee Art Museum, around the Veterans Park lagoon and through Lakeshore State Park. There are two rest stops along the way.
It's free to register for the walk and can be done online prior to the event or at the event. However, walkers are encouraged to collect donations and anyone who raises $100 or more will receive a commemorative T-shirt. This is the 23rd year for AIDS Walk Wisconsin and the goal is to break $11,000,000 – collectively raised since the first year of the event.
"It's going to be another high-energy event down at the lakefront, with a new route that people are really going to enjoy," says Gifford. "It's a great day of solidarity in the fight against HIV / AIDS."
A great cause and a great event. I hope some of that money raised will be spent educating people on the dangers of aids.
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