New Haven’s 12th Annual AIDS Walk drew a crowd of 200 on Saturday, raising around $6,000 for AIDS support organizations in Greater New Haven.
Beginning and ending at the New Haven Green, participants walked five kilometers to raise money for support services aimed at individuals and families affected by HIV and AIDS in the Elm City. In addition to raising money, Kaitlin O’Boyle, a University of New Haven graduate and executive director of AIDS Walk New Haven, said the organization seeks to increase awareness, promote preventative measures and help destigmatize HIV and AIDS.
“Someone in my life is HIV-positive and has kept it a secret all their life, so I wanted to get involved to fight the stigma,” O’Boyle said.
Krystn Wagner MED ’96, an HIV/AIDS specialist who treats patients at the Fair Haven Community Health Care Center, informed attendees about the breadth of resources now available to prevent HIV and AIDS. She said this year’s walk was different from previous years because it did not solely focus on people living with HIV. This year, Wagner said, she and others sought to educate the public about strategies to protect themselves from becoming HIV-positive.
Wagner highlighted the efficacy of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, a prescription pill which, if taken daily, prevents the HIV virus from establishing an infection in the body — by up to 92 percent — by blocking its replication. She said while Truvada, the brand name of PrEP, is covered by private insurance, nine out of 10 people she spoke to at the walk had not heard of Truvada previously.
The walk featured Elm City community members who described their experiences living with HIV/AIDS. Rev. Alexander R. Garbera, a pastor living with HIV and the first founding member of the New Haven Gay and Lesbian Community Center, opened the program with a moment of silence to commemorate the lives lost to HIV and AIDS. Victoria Wiggins, a New Haven resident who is also HIV-positive, emphasized the importance of getting tested in her speech.
While some walkers personally suffer from the virus, many walked in support or remembrance of family members who fell victim to HIV/AIDS. Carmen Rosado, a resident of Kissimmee, Florida, joined her Connecticut family this year in memory of her brother, Raymond Rosado. Rosado died from AIDS in 1992 at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and his local family members have walked for the past five years.
Carmen Rosado said the walk is effective in providing support for HIV/AIDS patients and penetrating the ignorance surrounding the illness. She said her brother researched the illness before he died to educate her and her family about the methods through which the virus is transmitted, adding that at the time of his death, many members of the public believed HIV could be transmitted through touching patients or touching surfaces with which patients had come into contact.
“You don’t just stop touching someone you love,” Carmen Rosado said. “You don’t give up.”
But, she said, many community members remain relatively uneducated regarding the virus and its transmission. Aryssa Damron ’18, one of Yale’s organizers for the event, said she became involved with the organization last year because HIV/AIDS advocacy still remains obscure in her small hometown in Kentucky.
Proceeds from the walk benefit Mayor Toni Harp’s Task Force on AIDS — an 11-member coalition that advises city policy surrounding the virus and advocates for HIV/AIDS victims.