40 Years of HIV Progress Recognized on World AIDS Day
On Wednesday, December 1, the Erie County HIV Task Force presented the 2021 World AIDS Day Memorial observance program at the H.O. Hirt Auditorium in the Blasco Public Library at 160 E Front St, Erie PA. The program included pre-recorded video segments by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, and others. In-person remarks were provided by Erie City Mayor Joe Schember, Director of Erie County Department of Health Melissa Lyon, Community Health Net Ryan White Nurse Care Manager Kelly Kruize, and Adagio Health Nurse Practitioner Andromeda Fair. Two blocks of panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt were on display at the library, one inside the main entrance and one on stage during the program. The blocks were maintained and made possible by the staff and support of the Northwest Alliance of Clarion University.
Erie County Department of Health’s Gary Snyder emceed the program and highlighted the Erie County HIV Task Force’s achievements in 2021 including a new awareness billboard campaign, video PSAs before films at the Cinemark Tinseltown 17 complex, and expansion of the Condom Distribution Program. Mayor Schember reviewed the importance of working toward removing barriers to testing and care. County Executive Dahlkemper reviewed the history of World AIDS Day and the importance of regular testing for all county residents. Director Lyon explained the creation and importance of the AIDS Memorial Quilt along with recent Erie County statistics for HIV cases. Notably, HIV reported cases are the highest in the past decade. Access to testing and prevention supplies were a main focus of the evening’s messages. Community Health Net’s Kruize impressed upon the audience the validity of nurse advocacy for persons living with HIV. Adagio Health’s Andi Fair provided an update on the medical advances available today with Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis [PrEP] and how HIV infections can be prevented with a once-daily pill while newer options are in clinical studies currently. Northwest Alliance also provided a peer survivor story that highlighted the importance of HIV case work for individuals incarcerated. Before the program closing, over 300 names were read aloud in a touching segment to memorialize some of the Erie County community residents with HIV that have died.
Following the program, a reception was held in front of the Maritime Museum gift shop where local advocates, support staff, task force members, and the public mingled. Red ribbon cutouts were provided by SafeNet for individuals to write names of loved ones on and placed on the interior lobby windows for display to the community. This year’s program focused around the theme ’40 Years of Progress’ in recognition of the first HIV cases reported in the summer of 1981. In 2020, there were approximately 37.7 million people across the globe with HIV. Of these, 36 million were adults and 1.7 million were children aged 0-14 years. More than half (53%) were women and girls. An estimated 1.5 million individuals worldwide acquired HIV in 2020, marking a 31% decline in new HIV infections since 2010. For more information on local services, testing, and free condom, visit the Erie County HIV Task Force at ECHIV.ORG or follow their Twitter account @ErieCountyHIVTF and like their Facebook page.
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