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ACR Health’s AIDS Walk/Run, celebrating its 25th year on June 4, is not about the distance but the journey -- from hopelessness to hope, from a raging epidemic to one whose end is now in sight.
 

The 5K and 10K fundraising event began in 1993 during AIDS’ darkest days. That year, 14,646 New Yorkers would learn that they had AIDS. Never again would the number of new infections be as high. Those diagnosed with AIDS would most likely die within five years.  
 

What had been considered a “gay” disease was now everywhere.  In 1990, young Ryan White of Indiana died of AIDS he had contracted from a blood transfusion; in 1991, basketball star Magic Johnson revealed that he had HIV; in 1992 Arthur Ashe made the same announcement and was dead within the year.
 

At AIDS Task Force of CNY (now ACR Health) volunteers were transporting individuals to doctor’s appointments and grocery stores because they were too sick to take care of themselves and had been abandoned by their families because they had AIDS.  
 

While there was no cure, or sure fire treatment for AIDS, there was a way to prevent it: condoms.  ACR Health launched the first HIV prevention programs for youth and adults in Central New York.   The Teen AIDS Task Force set up chapters in schools and the first AIDS Walk/Run (which raised $31,259) footed the bill.
 

“Safer Sex” through condom use was a major message at the first, and every subsequent, AIDS Walk/Run.  Now, in addition to condoms as a prevention defense, there is a once a day pill - PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) - that prevents the spread of HIV!

 

Over the years the AIDS Walk/Run has raised more than $2.75 million which has always been reinvested back into youth prevention education programming; emergency client needs; and to raise awareness about HIV prevention and the need to be tested.  The primary cause of HIV transmission is by individuals who have HIV and don’t know it, thereby unintentionally infecting their sexual partners.  

 

As we observe 25 years of prevention education made possible by the AIDS Walk/Run, New York is unbelievably just three years away from its goal of “Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2020.”  Ending the Epidemic means bringing new HIV infections below 750 per year.  State Health officials say we are on course for meeting this breathtaking goal.   How we get there is HIV test by HIV test by HIV test.  We must find those who are HIV positive and don’t know it.  New York’s AIDS Institute is investing millions of dollars to identify and treat those with HIV/AIDS.

 

ACR Health has greatly expanded HIV testing which is a priority for ending AIDS.  Testing is up 545% in 2017 compared to 2012.  

 

In 2012, ACR Health offered five programs that provided HIV testing; 151 tests were completed that year.  In 2017, we have eight programs that provide HIV testing; 974 HIV tests were completed between 1/1/16-5/4/17.

 

If state funding stays strong and HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns get the attention they need to be successful, HIV/AIDS will be brought under control.   It’s hard to even imagine what this might mean.  After the dark days of the 1980’s and 1990’s, we might just slay the dragon that claimed so many lives and causes heartbreak even to this day.

 

These are exciting times for ACR Health.  I was a volunteer in 1993 when I gathered a group of volunteers and created the AIDS Walk/Run.  That event has had two main purposes for the past 25 years: raise money to support youth sexual health education; and educate the public about how to prevent the spread of HIV.  ACR Health Director of Volunteers, Mary Doody, and many others here and on our Events Committee, have dedicated their professional lives to this cause.  I am humbled by the knowledge of all the favorable, life-changing consequences the AIDS Walk/Run has brought to Central New York.  I anticipate the day, not too far off now, when we can declare the End of the AIDS Epidemic in New York.

 

Sunday morning, June 4, 2017, come walk or run with us at the 25th Annual AIDS Walk/Run at Beaver Lake Nature Center in Baldwinsville.  If you have HIV you will be surrounded by hundreds of people who understand and either share your experience or love someone who does.  If you are HIV free, you may just have the AIDS Walk/Run to thank for having made the word “condom” part of the community conversation.  

 

ACR Health, because of events like the AIDS Walk/Run, is on the verge of realizing the amazing success of ending the AIDS epidemic in New York.  Join us this Sunday and be part of this extraordinary accomplishment.

 

Wil Murtaugh
Executive Director
ACR Health