PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For more than three decades, the AIDS Walk/Run has taken over the streets of Philadelphia.
Organizers say events like these are especially important in the greater Philadelphia region, where the rate of new infection for HIV is three times the national average.
Nearly 19,500 Philadelphians are living with the disease, according to numbers from organizers.
The event benefits the AIDS Fund, which recently adjusted its mission. It now provides emergency funds to those living with HIV through the From All Walks of Life Fund.
Now, the goal is to reach zero new infections, zero stigma and zero deaths.
AIDS Fund Executive Director Robb Reichard says there’s been incredible progress to get there – but there’s still work to be done.
“Many people have taken that progress as the epidemic is over – and it’s not. We need to be able to keep people in care, and that’s critical,” Reichard said.
Kevin Burns, executive director of Action Wellness, an organization that helps those with HIV/AIDs and chronic illness, saw the impact of the infection firsthand in the 1980s and 1990s as friends died of the disease; it’s why he has dedicated his career to raising awareness and money for those affected.
“Having AIDS was a death sentence,” Burns said. “Today, there’s no reason for someone with HIV disease to have a different life expectancy than anyone else.”
He says while they’re fighting for a cure – they’re also fighting against stigma.
“The stigma is still one of the biggest barriers to people getting tested – and I think we need to step back and realize it’s a disease that can affect anyone,” Burns said.
Pat Lavelle has been to the past 30 AIDS Walks in Philadelphia, first with her brother, Jim – then in his memory after his death in 1996.
“My brother Jim was an invasive cardiologist who we found out he and his husband had HIV in 1987,” she said. “These days, we’re on the point of being able to subdue HIV if everyone is infected can be helped to stay in treatment.”
Free HIV tests were also available on site. The event also featured a large visual timeline of 35 years of AIDS/HIV history, along with an AIDS Memorial Quilt, 48,000 panels that honors the life of someone who has died from AIDS.
Organizers say this year’s event raised more than $275,000.