Grab the walking shoes and plan to stomp the cement runway like the fundraising models all Houstonians have inside of them for AIDS Foundation Houston's 30th AIDS Walk on Sunday, March 3 at Sam Houston Park. This rain-or-shine event starts with a registration at noon, a 3K-long walk at 1 p.m., and a post-walk festival featuring free HIV and syphilis testing and resources for people interested in STD prevention options.
"For us, AIDS Foundation Houston has been around since the beginning of the epidemic. Who would have known 30 years ago that AIDS would still be a problem for many communities, but the treatment and tools we have available for HIV are completely different with innovation, research, science and advocacy," said Interim CEO for AIDS Foundation Houston Nike Blue.
Blue's statement sums up the purpose of the walk. Beyond supporting AIDS Foundation Houston, the monies raised go to 12 additional AIDS Serving organizations across the city. The funds help to support critical resources like medical care, testing and prevention.
This is crucial, especially in Houston, since 52 percent of all U.S. deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS occur in the South and the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest rate of new HIV transmissions are in the South, according to data collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative and the World Health Organization.
Yet, hope is not lost in the battle. Last year, the organization raised more than $300,000 to provide much-needed health services to the Greater Houston Area, and this year, it hopes to meet or beat that number.
When looking at so many years of working in the world of HIV/AIDS, one can't help but note the changes in treatment, education and stigma surrounding the disease. Blue says the two biggest recent evolutions in handling the epidemic are PrEP and the U=U scientific findings.
The Centers for Disease Control describes PrEP as such: Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed, but it is much less effective when not taken consistently. Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent. Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70 percent. Your risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower if you combine PrEP with condoms and other prevention methods.
U=U stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable. We'll let a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs explain this one.
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It says: A substantial body of scientific evidence shows that sustained suppression of HIV RNA, defined as less than 200 copies/mL, prevents HIV transmission. Most notable are three studies of serodifferent couples, those in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative. In these studies, there were zero HIV transmissions from an HIV-positive partner who had HIV suppression on antiretroviral therapy to an HIV-negative sex partner. Two of these studies included substantial numbers of men who have sex with men, and couples who did not use condoms; these couples had about 75,000 episodes of condom-less (and PrEP-less) sex acts with no HIV transmissions.
"In recent years, what has come to light for HIV in terms of barriers is that it’s no longer a death sentence, but for some communities HIV is still an epidemic. People are still getting the disease and not getting access to care and dying prematurely. We use AIDS Walk to get the community out, to encourage people to start having conversations they might not have had, and connect to resources, because there's hope out there," she said.
If that's not reason enough to walk (or make a donation, or start talking with loved ones about the epidemic, or stop shaming HIV), I don't know what is.
The 30th annual AIDS Walk Houston takes place starting at noon on Sunday at Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby Street. For more information, visit aidshelp.org. Participation is free, and donations may be made online or in person at the walk.