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VIDEOS: After 30 years of HIV, World AIDS Day organizers hope end of pandemic is near

SAN DIEGO – An entire generation has grown up not knowing what a world without HIV and AIDS is like.

As the AIDS virus enters its fourth decade, communities around the globe today are recognizing those whose lives have been lost to the virus and raise awareness during the 20th annual World AIDS Day.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has selected “Getting to Zero” as the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day, which will be used until 2015.

UNAIDS officials say the decision to choose this year’s theme came after extensive consultations among people living with HIV, health activists and civil society organizations, who envision a world free of HIV and AIDS.

The goal of the campaign is: “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.”

“It’s time to use our imaginations and let everyone know that Getting to Zero is a must,” said Linda Mafu, World AIDS Campaign Africa director.

In a speech delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a National Institutes of Health gathering on Nov. 8, Clinton said the world has a historic opportunity: “To change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.”

Until that time comes, the governments, organizations, and individuals throughout the world that have pledged work to eradicate the disease and its stigmas while supporting those living with it will come together today to re-new their commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS.

Growing up with HIV/AIDS

Eric Hufford is a student living in San Diego, born in 1981, just months before the first cases of what eventually became known as AIDS were being reported.

“HIV/AIDS has always been a part of my life seeing as I've grown up entirely in the epidemic,” Hufford said.

In fact, growing up as a gay man, Hufford said that he worried that his destiny was to contract HIV.

Gay men and AIDS

In the earliest days of the virus, gay men were hit the hardest by it, causing those in the medical community to believe it might be directly related to gay men. Because it was not until late in 1982 that the disease was given the name AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), there were originally a number of different titles for it, including “gay cancer” and “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID).

As the gay community continued to disproportionately suffer from the virus, stigmas were attached to it, some of which still linger today, and led Hufford to believe that contracting the virus was the only path for his life.

AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the United Kingdom, says that today in the U.S., UK and European countries, HIV and AIDS affects young gay men more than any other group of people. The organization estimates that in 2007, the U.S. was home to nearly 255,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) living with AIDS. Not all MSM identify as gay.

The organization has a number of resources aimed at preventing the transmission of HIV among the MSM population and other demographic groups.

The CDC estimates that more than 1 million people are living with HIV in the U.S. One in five (21%) of those people living with HIV is unaware of their infection.

Hufford says that since he was diagnosed as HIV-positive 10 years ago, he has used it as a tool to live better. “I encourage others not to make the same mistakes I made,” he said.

Russell Bui, a 26-year-old fitness trainer in San Diego, says that HIV/AIDS is not taken seriously enough, especially within his generation.

“We blithely acknowledge it with fundraisers, but don't care enough to learn and practice prevention -- apparent in the new cases from within our friendship circles yearly,” Bui said.

“When it does become present, we stigmatize it, and think it's the end all to life, which also isn't true. We don't have enough role models speaking about their status and their accomplishments. We don't have the youth talking about it enough.”

A number of programs and campaigns have been launched over the years attempting to do just that: getting people talking about HIV and AIDS.

Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHCSD) launched the “Clear the Air” campaign in 2006, and again in December 2010 to encourage gay men to speak more openly about their HIV status.

In an article published in Gay San Diego, Bob Lewis, FHCSD’s director of HIV Services, said that the first run of the campaign was received well by the LGBT community, resulting in positive behavioral outcomes.

“Nearly two-thirds of street intercept survey respondents had discussed their HIV/STD status with friends or sexual partners after seeing the ads,” Lewis said.

African-Americans and AIDS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that African-Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV, with 44% of all new HIV affections in 2009 being in African-American individuals.

CDC also noted that young African-American gay and bisexual men are especially at risk of HIV infection.

The statistics within this community are daunting, leading a number of organizations and educations trying to figure out how to stem the tide of new infections. CDC notes a number of prevention challenges within the African-American community, including socioeconomic issues, lack of awareness of HIV status, and stigma, fear, discrimination, homophobia and negative perceptions about HIV testing that exist within this community.

A study by Columbia University shows that churches with predominantly African-American congregations have existing health outreach strategies in place that could be of enormous use in HIV prevention for black gay and bisexual men.

Most of the churches included in the study engaged in HIV prevention or other HIV-related efforts on some level. Some of the churches had HIV/AIDS ministries, which actively sought to mobilize church members, parishioners and community members in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The data revealed three prominent themes which might help explain the lack of LGBT-focused mobilization efforts: "love the sinner, hate the sin" – the belief that behavior can be distinguished and separated from identity; "don’t ask, don’t tell" – the belief that identities and behaviors should be kept private; and "your body is a temple" – the belief that spiritual and physical health are interconnected.

According to the study, “The ‘your body is a temple’ ideology may represent a missed opportunity for HIV prevention and mobilization for several of the churches in the study.” The data suggests that the body-spirit connection was often used by pastors and parishioners as way to promote or discourage being straight or gay, as opposed to a way to reduce HIV risk and promote prevention.

TheBody.com is an HIV/AIDS resource website, which includes a section dedicated to the African-American community, and includes a list of ideas for black churches to create HIV/AIDS education programs.

Remembering those we have lost and moving forward

A number of events will be held online, and in communities across the globe to honor those who have died and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Already, thousands of people have changed their Facebook profile images to one that includes some sort of red ribbon, which has become the international symbol for AIDS awareness.

President Barack Obama spoke today at an event hosted by the ONE Campaign and (RED) called "The Beginning of the End of AIDS."

Obama was joined by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Bono, Alicia Keys and others for the event that was broadcast live on YouTube at 10 am ET/7 am PT.

(RED) has also launched an online project called the (2015)Quilt that allows people to create panels on the “quilt” which is modeled after The Names Project’s AIDS Quilt first created in 1987.

Local events marking World AIDS Day

In Palm Springs, the Desert AIDS Project will host a number of events to commemorate 30-years of AIDS, including an AIDS memorial wall, an open house and a dinner with a panel discussion.

More information about these events is available online.

In San Diego, a number of events will take place in Hillcrest, North County and on college campuses.

At University of California San Diego (UCSD), a number of events will happen all day long on the campus, including a morning candlelight vigil, display of panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt and Survivors photography exhibit, live performances, information tables, a “die-in,” a panel discussion and more.

A full schedule is available on UCSD’s World AIDS Day website.

At San Diego State University (SDSU), the school’s Cross Cultural Center (CCC) will be handing out red ribbons for students and other campus community members to wear throughout the day.

Ribbons will be distributed until 4 pm at the CCC ,which is located in the Chapultepec Residence Halls near Tony Gwynn Stadium. For more information call (619) 619-594-7057.

SDSU’s Peer Health Educators and Delta Lambda Phi, the national gay, bisexual and progressive male fraternity, will host a fundraiser for Mama’s Kitchen from 7 to 10 pm Thursday at Babycakes, 3766 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest.

A portion of the proceeds from the evening’s sales will be donated to Mama’s Kitchen when the customers presents a printed copy of this flier.

In Hillcrest, Mama’s Kitchen will host the 20th annual Tree of Life Ceremony at the Village Hillcrest Plaza, starting at 6 pm.

The event, which has become a community World AIDS Day tradition, will feature the lighting of the large holiday tree in the plaza, along with a candlelight vigil, speakers, and a chance to purchase an ornament to be placed on the tree, which can be personalized with a memory of a loved one.

The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus will perform at the event, which will be emceed by Perette Godwin of Fox 5 San Diego. The event is free and open to the public, although participants are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item for Mama’s Pantry.

The Village Hillcrest Plaza is located at 3965 Fifth Ave. More information is available HERE.

In North County, Pilgrim UCC Church will commemorate World AIDS Day with a special service, featuring a presentation by Morgana Mlodoch of the North County LGBTQ Resource Center. The event will run from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. at Pilgrim Church, 2020 Chestnut Ave. in Carlsbad.

More information is available HERE.

A coalition of four non-profit organizations in San Diego which provide services to those living with HIV and AIDS has created an online project designed to raise funds for the services provided by the groups and provide a space for community members to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

The World AIDS Day San Diego project will benefit the “4 Friends:” Being Alive, Townspeople, Stepping Stone and Special Delivery. The organizations teamed up to share resources and support each other during this challenging economic time.

Visitors to the site are suggested to donate $30 to place their message on the scroll. Donors, however, may give more or less, and the proceeds will be equally distributed amongst the four organizations.

The coalition has plans to expand the site in the near future, including a perpetual online quilt and other resources.

One woman’s story of giving back and moving forward

Carin Scheinin, who sings in the San Diego Women’s Chorus and will also take part in her second AIDS Life Cycle experience next year, is about to turn 32 years old, and said that it is strange that she has never known world without HIV and AIDS.

“I have no memory of a time when AIDS didn’t exist. While my parents lived in San Francisco in the 1970s and saw their friends just disappear,” Scheinin said. “I think that since AIDS has been around for so long -- for many young people's entire lives - we sometimes forget that it still exists and still takes too many people from us.”

Scheinin says she feels incredibly fortunate to have not lost anyone close to her from AIDS, so she is not quite sure what compelled her to become so committed to giving back to the HIV/AIDS community.

Scheinin decided to join AIDS/LifeCycle last year, which is a seven-day, 600-mile bike ride down the California coast, sponsored by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

“I was just drawn to it,” Scheinin said. “Through the experience of training in San Diego and riding in the actual event from San Francisco to LA, something clicked and I knew that I was dedicating myself to the right cause. I met so many incredible people who have been living with HIV/AIDS for decades, who had just learned their positive status, who had lost lovers, partners, children, parents. People struggling and grieving and searching.”

Scheinin said she is proud and humbled to have met so many people that she calls "heroes" through the AIDS/LifeCycle experience, noting that while the disease has been devastating, it has brought the LGBT and other communities together.

“It's such a testament to the human spirit that an amazing, positive, hopeful, beautiful community has emerged from such sadness, grief, pain and sorrow,” Scheinin said. “I can't even really imagine our community without the way that AIDS rallied it together. And yet, I can't help but think that it's so incredibly unfair that we have lost so many bright lights to this disease. I don't know how we can wrap our minds around the number of people we've lost as a human race. “

For more information on Worlds AIDS Day click HERE.

World AIDS Day "Videos of Hope" from The Foundation for AIDS Research