Source: Hudson Reporter.com
As many as one hundred people gathered in the cafeteria of Jersey City Medical Center-Barnabas Health to participate in what has become a historic walk, marking World AIDS Day.
At City Hall on Grove Street, the multitude gathered on the steps, drawing even more attention before reassembling in the City Council chambers for a prayer vigil, candle lighting ceremony, and information session.
Marvin Krieger, director of the Hudson County HIV/AIDS Planning Council, recalled a time around 1980 when nobody knew what was happening. “Thirty-five years later, we still have to fight. Even though we’ve made a lot of progress over the last 15 years, this is still a life-threatening disease.” He added that while it is good that 84 percent of people diagnosed with HIV survive, it also means that 16 percent are still dying from it.
In 2013, Jersey City had the sixth highest rate of AIDS in the state, while New Jersey was among the states with the highest in the nation with reported cases. Most the victims were men between the ages of 25 to 44. Almost half were African American and another 25 percent were Hispanic. Between 2002 and 2013, the number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses among young men who have sex with men increased by 40 percent.
Revolutionary drug breakthroughs over the last decade, massive awareness campaigns, needle exchange programs, and other initiatives have helped reshape the field, making it easier to treat people with the disease and prevent new cases. But just as they think they are winning the battle against the disease, activists say they are facing new challenges.
Almost a quarter of funding to the county has been cut over the last few years, activists say, leaving thousands of lives in jeopardy. Under some of the reporting regulations changes made about six years ago, HIV is no longer counted. This affects not only treatment, but also awareness programs that help reduce the number of new HIV infections. In Jersey City, a new wave of heroin has hit the streets, and activists fear this will cause an increase in the use of dirty needles and more HIV infections.
Since 1988, World AIDS day provides an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in their fight against HIV, and show support for people living with the disease. It also a day to commemorate those who perished. Members of the public were given candles named those they knew — names of people they needed to keep alive in memory, loved ones whose spirit seemed to fill the council chamber as they spoke.
“We are grateful they have touched our lives,” said Linda Ivory-Green, a community health services coordinator. “The candles are a symbol of their living spirit.”