Whitman-Walker Health will host a candlelight vigil tonight, Monday, Dec. 1, to commemorate World AIDS Day.
World AIDS Day, now in its 27th year, remembers those who lost their lives to HIV/AIDS and shows support for the fight against the virus by focusing on creating an “AIDS-free generation.” Activists, medical professionals and government officials have often invoked this concept as they encourage people to get tested, know their HIV status, seek treatment if infected, and educate themselves about HIV/AIDS.
The International Conference on AIDS, an annual global conference focusing on tracking, treating and combating the virus, particularly the Washington-based AIDS 2012 conference, made the creation of an “AIDS-free generation” one of its main goals. Shawn Jain, communications director for Whitman-Walker Health, the nonprofit community health center that specializes in LGBT-competent care and the treatment of HIV/AIDS, invoked that same theme in a statement.
“If cities like San Francisco and New York see an end to HIV/AIDS in future years,” Jain said, “then with the right investments, it is also possible in D.C.”
Jain said that the District has made huge progress in reducing the number of new infections in the past five years. According to the 2013 report released in July by the District of Columbia Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), the number of new HIV diagnoses has dropped 42 percent, and the number of new AIDS diagnoses has dropped 35 percent. However, Jain noted that there is a nationwide increase in infections among young men who have sex with men (MSM) of color. Additionally, one-quarter of all newly diagnosed HIV cases have occurred among black MSM, indicating there is more work to do. “We can go even further,” Jain said.
Whitman-Walker’s Monday vigil will feature an introduction by Justin Goforth, the health center’s director of community relations and one of POZ magazine’s 2013 “POZ 100” list of HIV/AIDS activists making a difference in the fight against the virus. Following a song performed by a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, four Whitman-Walker patients will address the crowd as candles are lit, accompanied by an interfaith prayer and a moment of silence. The vigil will conclude with remarks from Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker Health’s executive director, as well as elected and government officials.
“Recognizing World AIDS Day is so important because people need to know that the fight is not over,” Jain said. “Even though there’s treatment available, it is still an ongoing epidemic. With the tools we have now, we have an ability to make even greater progress.”
Whitman-Walker Health’s candlelight vigil in honor of World AIDS Day will take place at 6 p.m. at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center, 1701 14th St. NW, in the parking lot on the corner of 14th and Riggs Streets. For more information on Whitman-Walker, visit whitman-walker.org.
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