Honolulu AIDS Walk highlights ongoing fight against HIV/AIDS
WAIKIKI - Big crowds in Waikiki this morning for the 28th Annual Honolulu AIDS Walk. While Hawaii is ahead of many other parts of the country when it comes to combating AIDS, organizers of the walk say there's still more to do.
Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center (HHHRC) hosted the walk at Kapiolani Park. The goal of this year’s walk is to support those living with HIV/AIDS in Hawaii; raise awareness about the ongoing need to combat HIV through education, testing, prevention, and treatment; and remember those who have passed from the disease over the past three-and-half decades.
"We're super excited. The energy is great. The buzz is great out here," smiled Brent Anbe, who was working the booth representing the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival.
Thousands came for the event, which featured a 5K walk, music, entertainment, and prize giveaways. Lieutenant Governor Josh Green welcomed walk participants and others before the walk started at 9 a.m. HIV tests were available in a discrete location.
HHHRC says new data published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the need to scale up HIV testing to end America’s HIV epidemic. Overall, fewer than 40% of people in the United States have ever had an HIV test and less than 30% of those most at risk of acquiring HIV were tested in the past year.
The data was made available on July 27, on National HIV Testing Day. The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. HHHRC provides free HIV and hepatitis C testing in its Kaka'ako clinic.
“Even with great advances in combatting HIV/AIDS there is still much work to do in getting people to know their status and facilitating continual medical care for those living with HIV,” said HHHRC executive director Heather Lusk, who has worked on HIV/AIDS-related issues for almost three decades.
In the 28 years since the walk started, a lot has changed, especially awareness, as both media and LGBTQ filmmakers have played a role in educating the public. Anbe, who's preparing for the 30th annual Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival this August, says the festival shares the same goals as the AIDS Walk. "It was always someone else telling our stories, and now we're telling our own stories- I think that's important, and I think people will respond to that," he says.
Nationally, there are nearly 40,000 new HIV infections each year. Earlier this year, the Department of Health & Human Services released “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America” that seeks a 75% reduction in new HIV infections in 5 years and at least a 90% reduction in ten years.
Lusk says one of the most constructive measures that the federal government could take in combatting HIV, especially with the current national opioid epidemic, is to lift the ban on federal dollars to support access to sterile syringes for persons who inject drugs. Hawaii’s statewide syringe access program, the first of its kind in the nation, has shown over the past 30 years that syringe access successfully curbs the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among persons who inject drugs and their partners.
According to the latest HIV/AIDS surveillance report from the Hawaii State Department of Health, there are an estimated 2,393 persons living with HIV in Hawaii. For those receiving care, almost three in four have achieved viral suppression through the consistent use of medication. The cumulative number of known deaths from HIV/AIDS in Hawaii is 2,204.
HHHRC’s mission is to “reduce harm, promote health, create wellness, and fight stigma in Hawai?i and the Pacific.” In addition to providing free testing, HHHRC also facilitates access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent new HIV infections for those in at-risk populations.
This year’s walk has a record number of corporate sponsors: The Walking Company, Marriott Resort Waikiki Beach, 5 Minute Pharmacy, Holokai Catamaran, CVS Health, McDonald’s Hawaii, Alaska Airlines, Gay Island Guide, 94.7 KUMU, Alt 105.9, 102.7 Da Bomb, 93.1 Pa’ina, Vacations Hawaii, HMSA, Scarlet, Hawaiiana Management Co., Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union, UHA Health Insurance, Gilead Sciences, Kaiser Permanente, Toshiba Business Solutions, Ohana Broadcast Company, Hertz Rental Car, Starbucks, and Walgreens.
For more information visit the event’s website: www.honoluluaidswalk.org.