A walk to benefit a southern Utah AIDS organization raised over $3,000 this year — just one grand shy of the money it spent for testing last year, according to its president, Chris Doss.
The 12th annual walk to benefit the Tri-State HIV/AIDS Task Force took place in the gay-friendly art village of Kayenta (near Zion’s National Park) on Sept. 26. Formerly known as the Washington County HIV/AIDS Task Force, the organization provides monthly HIV testing for residents in Southern Utah, and parts of Nevada and Arizona at St. George’s Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic, as well as testing at other large events throughout the year, such as World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
The task force is currently the only group in Southern Utah that offers HIV/AIDS testing to the public at large. Planned Parenthood is the only other organization that offers testing for STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia, which along with HIV infections have been on the rise in Utah for the past several years.
This year, organizers asked walkers to contribute a donation of at least $11, the cost of one rapid HIV test. According to The Spectrum, St. George’s daily newspaper, roughly 60 walkers participated in the event.
The walk comes at a particularly grim time for HIV/AIDS care in Utah. In September, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about substantial cuts to Utah’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program which are set to leave 99 Utahns without the ability to pay for the antiretroviral drugs that keep them alive. The cuts have come about because of a $375,000 shortage in the program.
“They’re cutting human lives,” task force volunteer George Stoddard told the paper at the event. “This disease has not gone. It’s still here and we need to emphasize testing and prevention.”
According to the Utah Department of Health’s statistics, 45 new HIV cases have been reported throughout the state between January and June of 2009. Last year, 66 new cases were documented. Men who have sex with men make up the majority of new diagnoses, and have for the past several years.