As a person living with AIDS, I feel very privileged to be here today. Far too many of our friends, many of whom are here today in spirit only, did not have this opportunity.
Back 20 years ago, I was given 3 months to live. I firmly believe that I survived because I live in New York State and had access to life saving programs offered by the Department of Health, such as the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and services provided by community organizations like the Albany Damien Center.
We are truly at a watershed moment in the history of the AIDS epidemic in New York State. We have an opportunity to implement a blueprint through the Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which will not only save lives, but put us on a direct highway to an AIDS Free generation. Early in the epidemic, we were often lost, traveling through wooded fields trying to survive. We now thankfully have the science and tools to end this epidemic, something we, as people living with AIDS dreamed about from the moment we found out we were infected with HIV.
But still today, too many people go without lifesaving treatment and support. In New York State, we still have roughly 61% of people living with HIV who are not virally suppressed, meaning that they are not fully accessing our tools to help people survive. Over time, we have seen much complacency in the public as they think we have a cure, while poverty, stigma, isolation, and other social determinants of health continue to ravage our community to create barriers to care.
At the Damien Centers of Albany and Schenectady, we work in the Capital Region to ensure each person living with HIV/AIDS has unfettered access to the care and support they deserve in a comfortable and supportive community center setting, while working to prevent new HIV infections. We are one of the few HIV specific organizations that have remained standing in NYS, as funding for AIDS specific programs has decreased dramatically over time.
On behalf of people living with HIV and AIDS, I call upon all of us to redouble our efforts to end this epidemic. This is our time to realize what so many people living with HIV and AIDS had dreamed of – a world where new HIV infections are rare, and if they do happen, that each person has unfettered access to the care and support they deserve. Get tested, treat early, and stay safe!