AIDS Walk Miami Celebrates 25 Years of Activism
This weekend marks a special anniversary in the fight against AIDS in Miami.
For the last 25 years, AIDS Walk Miami has raised money for Care Resource, the oldest and largest HIV/AIDS community organization in the region. The walk on April 28 in Miami Beach is a celebration of a legacy of activism and community partnership.
"We have a tradition of running HIV awareness and fundraising campaigns since the very beginning of the epidemic," said Joe DePiro, marketing and public relations manager at Care Resource.
Each year, the walk draws about 2,500 people from across the country and some even from outside the U.S. This year, the 3.1-mile walk starting at the Miami Beach Convention Center will include "flamingoes" that participants can pick up along the way to later use in a raffle. After the walk, there will be music by MTV Latin America, vendors and food at the Botanical Gardens.
Most importantly, there will be rapid HIV testing sites where one can find out their status in a private setting in less than 30 minutes.
With Miami and Fort Lauderdale ranking as the top two cities in the nation for new HIV infections per capital, the walk is especially important. With the AIDS epidemic seeming to be a problem from another generation as well as medical advancements making AIDS a lifelong illness rather than a death sentence, people have become lax.
However, an AIDS patient could spend up to $600,000 in medical costs in their lifetime.
"The infection rates here are high but there’s two things we can do to bring that down and alleviate it, and the first one is everybody needs to know their status - plain and simple," DePiro said. "The second part of it is if you’re HIV-positive... get into treatment early. As soon as you find out, get into treatment."
"It will bring the numbers down until a vaccine is found, and hopefully with recent news, we’re hoping five years from now we won’t have any more AIDS."
Visit AIDSWalkMiami.org for more information.
Meet the Grand Marshal: Dr. Robert Gallo
Dr. Robert Gallo is credited as the co-discoverer of the link between HIV and AIDS in 1984, forever changing the lives of AIDS patients worldwide. This year, he will be traveling from Maryland to serve as the AIDS Walk Miami grand marshal.
Gallo’s interest in medicine stemmed from his sister’s death when he was 6; she was just 12 when she succumbed to leukemia. His goal was to study the disease, which eventually led him on the path to studying AIDS. Even as a doctor, he first heard of the disease ravaging gay men from reading newspapers.
He then heard Dr. James Curran, now the dean of Emory University’s Medical School in Georgia, lecture twice on AIDS. The first time didn’t resonate with him.
"I heard him lecture again. This time it was clear this was important, it was growing, it was scary, people were really suffering and I believed he was looking at me when he said, ’Where are the virologists?’"
At that time, proposing that AIDS was a virus was groundbreaking. In 1980, Gallo and his colleagues discovered the first real cancer virus, belonging to a family of retroviruses. Later, the group discovered a substance that has the ability to increase T-cell growth. Those infected with AIDS have a dramatic drop in T cells, a type of white blood cell. White blood cells are critical in defending the body from illness.