Thursday, October 9, 2008

How Much Do You Really Know about AIDS?

AIDSWALK Tucson, sponsored by Desert Diamond Casino and Hotel, will mark its 20th anniversary on Sunday, October 19, at The University of Arizona® campus mall with close to 6,000 people participating in either a 5K walk or a 10K run.

Registrations for the walk or run, and donations for walkers and runners, raise funds to help support prevention and education programs, as well as people living with HIV/AIDS. All proceeds stay in Southern Arizona and help to support the programs and services of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation. If you’re wondering why after 20 years you are still being asked to walk, raise funds, and support an AIDS service organization- take a glance back at AIDSWALK’s history in our own community.

The very first AIDSWALK Tucson took place on October 28, 1989 at Reid Park, in a very different world than what we live in today. In 1987, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Otis Bowen, addressed the AIDS epidemic by saying “We have not seen anything of this magnitude that we can’t control, except nuclear bombs.” In the early 80’s, young gay men were dying by the thousands, and no one knew how the disease was spread. Children with AIDS were barred from school. Churchgoers would not take communion wine in fear of becoming infected. It wasn’t until 1989 that scientists were able to determine that AIDS was transmitted only through blood and sexual intercourse, and not saliva, tears, or toilets and unbelievably SAAF still educates the community about these same myths today – teaching the true facts of reducing one’s risk for HIV.

Scientists and doctors tried to determine the cause of the disease, and they experimented with different treatments, while discouraging the spread the disease. There were over 100 drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests being investigated to see if any of them would help treat, or even cure, the AIDS virus. Azidothymidine, or AZT, slowed down the multiplication of the AIDS virus in people with mild symptoms. It became the only medication licensed by the FDA for AIDS treatment. Today, there are medications available, but unfortunately the side effects are life changing. Not only are they harsh on the body, they are unbelievably costly. The cost for most people living with HIV is devastating and a daily financial struggle. SAAF continues to support people living with HIV through support services like medication assistance, housing, food, dental care and case management. In 1989, efforts to support people living with HIV and in need of the new medications and treatment rapidly increased, and grass roots organizations that had sprung up to care for those dying from complications of AIDS were morphing into support organizations. If someone was born in 1980 or later, it is likely they don’t have a memory of the confusion, fear and death that HIV/AIDS brought. For these reasons we recognize and remember the history that brought us to this day, 20 years later and 27 years after HIV was first recognized in the U.S. We’ve come a long way- but we have a long way to go before HIV is eradicated.

Take action! Walk! Fundraise! Ask others to join you in learning how HIV affects our community! At AIDSWALK, with the help of Access Tucson, you will have the opportunity to record your personal story about why you walk. These stories will be the beginning of an oral history video project to preserve individual recollections of how AIDS has impacted personal lives. You can also find us on Facebook, in the group “AIDSWALK Tucson,” where you can add your own comments to a discussion board.

Young or old, rich or poor, gay or straight, please come to AIDSWALK 2008 and help to spread this important message to the community at large. This really is “Everybody’s Walk.” By sharing what you have seen and by sharing what you know about HIV/AIDS, you can help to educate and prevent the spread of HIV. To register, please go to, or call (520) 791-9255.

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