By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In Rittenhouse Square today, the Philadelphia-based AIDS Fund kicked off its effort to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.
It’s part of the organization’s countdown to the 27th annual AIDS Walk and Run.
“Every nine-in-a-half minutes someone gets infected with HIV,” said Robb Reichard, executive director of the AIDS Fund (in top photo). He says the annual AIDS Walk Philly 12K and the AIDS Run Philly 5K will bring thousands together to raise money for education, awareness, and care services related to HIV.
The focus this year, he adds, is stigma.
“While we have made tremdous strides in treatment of HIV, we still have a long way to go in how we treat people with HIV,” he said. “We still face stigma every day, and stigma fuels the epidemic.”
Reichard says the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS keep people from disclosing their status to their partners, keeps them from disclosing it to their doctors, and keeps them from seeking treatment.
“Only 25 percent are getting treatment where their virus is undetectable,” he says. “We have a long way to go when 75 percent of the people in the country with HIV are not getting successful treatment.”
Dena Lewis Salley works as a peer assistant at Philadelphia Fight and says sharing her story helps others open up about their status.
“I’ve been positive for 14 years,” she says, “but I’m fine, I’m healthy, and life goes on. The less that people are ashamed or feel fear about disclosing, the more people will get tested and find out whether they are positive or not,” she notes.
But opening up isn’t that easy.
“There is a whole lot of ignorance out there, unfortunately” says Ronda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, a free-standing law firm focused exclusively on legal issues related to HIV and AIDS.
She says the project handles 2,000 cases a year, a quarter of which relate to AIDS discrimination.
“We are trying to have people talk about AIDs at the dinner table, spread the word that there is nothing to be feared,” she says.
And Goldfein says people who have tested positive for AIDS have rights that are protected.
“You are the same person you were before you were tested,” she says. “You have a right to go to school, you have a right to your employment, you have a right to health care.”
AIDS Walk Philly and AIDS Run Philly is set for October 20th. For more information go to aidswalkphilly.org.