According to UNAIDS estimates, 33.2 million people, including 2.5 million children, the world over are currently living with HIV, with 2.5 million infected in 2007 alone. Of all infections, nearly half occur in people under 25 who die before reaching 35.
The statistics for Utah are also alarming. According to Toni Johnson, Executive Director of the People with AIDS Coalition of Utah, there are 3,125 HIV positive individuals currently living in the state.
“Unfortunately, those are only the people who have been tested,” she said. “There are more people, but we don’t know how many.”
To raise awareness of this disease, to further efforts to find effective treatments and to decrease the stigma of being HIV positive, World AIDS Day has been observed on Dec. 1 since 1988. The theme of this year’s day is Universal Access and Human Rights. It is a theme that Johnson and many in the state understand well, given that the state’s AIDS Drug Awareness Program, facing a $350,000 deficit, has dropped nearly 90 Utahns living with HIV/AIDS from its rolls and closed its doors to new applicants for the time being.
“It’s a nightmare,” Johnson told QSaltLake in a previous story about the program’s suspension.
Although Johnson and PWACU’s other officers have their hands full planning a push to get more funding for ADAP during the upcoming legislative session, PWACU will observe World AIDS Day on Nov. 1 with a candlelight vigil at the Salt Lake City Main Library’s outdoor amphitheatre, 210 E. 400 S., at 6:00 p.m. which will include information tables, an open microphone and an opening prayer by Rev. Carolyn Holdsworth, co-minister of Granger Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
“I will also have our AIDS Drug Assistance Program fact sheet detailing what we’re going to ask the legislature available to hand out that evening,” said Johnson.
“We hope people come out and remember their loved ones,” she concluded.
PWACU’s vigil is just one of several events being held throughout Salt Lake Valley and around the state to commemorate World AIDS Day. Here are a few others being held by prominent organizations and cultural institutions.
Doctors, Dudes and Dinners at the Utah AIDS Foundation
The Utah AIDS Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers a number of services to Utahns at living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS including: a food pantry, case management and support group services and a number of social groups centered around the health of gay and bisexual men. The Village, one of these two groups, will commemorate World AIDS Day by kicking off 3D: Doctors + Dudes + Dinner, an ongoing series of dinners held to educate queer men about their specific health issues.
According to Josh Newbury, HIV Prevention Specialist, the dinner series is the brain child of Scott Jackson and Kim Sawtelle, two University of Utah nursing interns who are currently working with the foundation and who wanted to create a long-term project centered on gay men’s health. Newbury said he encouraged the interns to “take a big picture approach” to their subject by looking “outside of the realities of HIV, AIDS and other STDs” at other health issues impacting queer men, including skin cancer and getting appropriate nutrition and exercise.
The first of the 3D dinners, called “Fresh, Foxy and Fabulous,” will be held Dec. 1 at Desert Edge Brewery, 602 E. 500 S. at Trolley Square, from 7–8 p.m. A nutritionist will give the evening’s presentation on exercise, fitness, nutritional supplements and positive body image.
“We’re probably going to see three more dinners through 2010,” said Newbury, mentioning that topics are likely to include genital warts and colon health. Ultimately, he said the foundation hopes to make the dinners part of its permanent programming.
Dinner is free and gift bags containing free yoga passes and safer sex kits are included. Space is limited to 26 men. To RSVP contact Josh Newbury at Josh.Newbury@utahaids.org.
UAF will observe World AIDS Day more directly earlier in n the day, from 6:00–6:30 p.m. at the City and County Building in Salt Lake City, 451 S. State St. During this ceremony, called [Red] Day, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker will issue a World AIDS Day proclamation. The event will include a number of speakers and entertainers and conclude with a red lighting of the building and a city-wide bell-ringing tribute in honor of those affected by HIV/AIDS.
On Nov. 2, UAF will hold a screening of the documentary _Pedro_ about the life of AIDS activist and MTV’s _The Real World_ star Pedro Zamora at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 S., at 7:00 p.m. with a brief discussion to follow. An hour prior to the screening, a reception will be held at Canella’s Italian Restaurant, 204 E. 500 S. Here, photographer David Daniels will be taking photographs of men for use in UAF’s new safer sex campaign.
Both reception and screening are open to the public and free, but donations are accepted and encouraged.
After the heavier events surrounding world AIDS Day, Newbury called the events of Dec. 2 “a good chance for people to come together and mingle for movie.”
The Foundation will also hold free HIV testing from Nov. 30 through Dec. 3 and on Dec. 7. For more information about testing, visit utahaids.org.
Utah Pride Center
To commemorate World AIDS Day, the Utah Pride Center will host a catered, all-ages dinner on Dec. 1 from 5–9 p.m. at its main building on 351 N. 300 W.
The dinner is being organized by Lillian Rodriguez and Jeremy Yamashiro, the Center’s HIV Prevention Coordinator and HIV Prevention Youth Program Coordinator, respectively. It is the result, said Yamashiro, of the two wanting to do something a little different than the Center has in past years to raise awareness about the disease and to show “solidarity and support for people living with HIV in Utah and to memorialize people who have passed on.” Both he and Rodriguez will speak at the dinner about the Center’s HIV education and prevention programs.
The dinner is alcohol-free and will be vegetarian friendly (Yamashiro added that the Center is hoping to make it vegan friendly as well). The Center’s test site will also be open during the dinner’s duration.
An after party will be held at Club JAM, 751 N. 300 W., from 9 p.m. on.
Day With(out) Art
In honor of World AIDS Day, the Utah Museum of Fine Art will observe the Day With(out) Art. Begun in 1989 by the group Visual AIDS, Day With(out) Art is response to the toll HIV/AIDS has taken on the U.S.’ arts community. In the past museums typically observed the day by sponsoring exhibits about the disease or shutting their doors entirely. Today art galleries and other arts venues typically cover a work or a number of works with a black cloth or drape to symbolize the loss HIV/AIDS poses to the arts community, and to the world at large and the people and organizations working to find a cure. To date, nearly 8,000 galleries, art centers, museums, libraries and AIDS service groups around the world participate annually.
In past years, the museum has covered a variety of works to honor the day, including Deborah Butterfield’s sculpture _Rex_ and the lithograph _Treaty_ by Robert Rauschenberg, a longtime AIDS activist. The object to be covered this year is the elegant _Sowei_ helmet mask in the museum’s permanent Africa: Arts of a Continent exhibition. The mask’s case will be covered with during visiting hours and a display card will be posted to explain the mask’s absence.
The mask, which was traditionally worn by the _Sande_ women’s society , comes from the Mende peoples of Sierra Leone, an African nation that has been particularly devastated by AIDS. According to figures released in 2007 by AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS group, nearly 55,000 people in the country are currently infected.
According to UMFA Interim Director Gretchen Dietrich, the museum selected the piece because of its central location in the gallery as well as its connection to women — whom AIDS has hit particularly hard in all countries.
“[We thought] it would be cool to do a work of art from Africa because of the ways in which the diseases’ impact on world society has changed a bit [since the 1980s],” she said.
Dietrich said that UMFA is honored to participate in Day With(out) Art as it has in years past because of the important roll art plays in society.
“An art museum as a responsibility to be connected to the world in which we are all living,” she said. “We have a responsibility to point out not just beautiful things, but difficult and challenging things as well and I think this is a nice example of that. An art museum is always a place of dialogue and conversation.”
“It makes sense to us to participate in this [day] because [AIDS] is still so relevant and such an enormous problem for people living all over the world,” she continued. “Don’t for a moment think there aren’t a lot of people in America living and struggling with AIDS and HIV-related illnesses. I think there is a bit of complacency in America about it, that this is just something that happens in Africa, and that’s not true.”