By Timaree Schmit
Started in 1988, “It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness,” according to National AIDS Trust.
In 2020, it holds a unique significance as we battle not only this decades-long epidemic but another, faster-moving one.
In September of 1981, Philadelphia doctors diagnosed the first local case of what would later come to be known as AIDS. This was a few months after New York and Los Angeles had seen incidents of “mysterious outbreaks of pneumocystis pneumonia and Kaposi’s sarcoma among gay men,” according to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
Initially, Philly’s transmission rate was low, with only seven reported cases that first year. But by 1983, the epidemic took hold, growing wildly and continuing its spread to New Jersey, Delaware and onward. Since then, more than 600,000 Americans have died from the illness, which AIDS Fund Philly points out is more than all the combat deaths since the start of the first World War.
Much has changed since then in terms of our understanding of AIDS, as well as outcomes for the people who acquire it. And while prevention technology has dramatically improved and a diagnosis now means more of a manageable chronic issue than a death sentence, our city is still disproportionately impacted.
In 2017 – the year for which data is most recently available – around 460 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Philadelphia, a rate that is five times higher than the national average and 50 percent higher than the rate in New York City. There are an estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV today; around 30,000 in the Greater Philadelphia region alone.
Of course, the impact does not fall evenly among our city’s denizens. As AIDSVu points out: “Philadelphia is a key example of how HIV disproportionately impacts Black Americans. According to the most recent census data, Black people account for 43 percent of the population of Philadelphia, yet in 2017, 64 percent of people living with HIV and 70 percent of new diagnoses in Philadelphia were among Black men and women. Further, the rate of Black women in Philadelphia living with diagnosed HIV is seven times that of White women.”
On AIDSVu’s interactive map of HIV across cities in the U.S., the severe impact of the disease on our region is obvious, as is the wide variation in infection rates from ZIP Code to ZIP Code. Up in Somerton, also known as 19116, for example: about 268 people out of every 100,000 are living with HIV, but in Center City’s 19107 ZIP Code, the rate is over 4,000 out of 100,000.
Due to COVID-19, World AIDS Day 2020 will be largely celebrated virtually – through online events like Philadelphia FIGHT’s Virtual Prayer Renewal and photo sharing projects like Action Wellness’ Heroes Wear Red campaign. Yet, there is much to celebrate and a lot of promising infrastructure in place already.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of activists in Philadelphia since the early 1980s, we have a surprising number of resources available for HIV education, testing, medical care, help navigating insurance, community support, and even food and housing assistance, all deserving of signal boosting. Below is just a sample.
EDUCATION, CONDOMS & MORE:
Access Matters: Sexual and reproductive health training, community-based programs, grants and testing. Located at 1700 Market St., Suite 1540 Philadelphia, PA 19103. Phone: (215) 985-2600
Do You, Philly: Resources aimed at young men for preventing a variety of STIs, finding free condoms and getting PrEP, as well as information if you test positive.
GALAEI: A queer Latin@ social justice organization with HIV prevention, trans and youth specific programs and grass roots organizing. Phone: 412-808-5710
Philadelphia FIGHT: Community health centers specifically for people with HIV, behavioral health, education, research and rental relief. Multiple locations.
Mazzoni Center: STI testing, primary care, gender affirming care, counseling and more. Find even more HIV resources on their website. Located at 1348 Bainbridge St. Philadelphia, PA 19147. Phone: 215-563-0652
Action Wellness: Everything from case management and assistance after being released from prison to help with housing, pregnancy care, testing and programs that help people with chronic illness get back to work. Located at 1216 Arch St. 6th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19107. Phone: 215-981-0088
Bebashi: Started specifically to serve the needs of low-income people of color living with HIV, this organization has expanded to include medical case management, support groups, breast health and help with food insecurity. Located at 1235 Spring Garden St. Philadelphia, PA 19123. Phone: 215-769-3561
Family Service Association of Bucks County (FSABC): Drug and alcohol treatment, a food pantry and a slew of health and educational programs, serving Bucks County in multiple locations. Phone: 215-757-6916
FUNDRAISING AND AWARENESS PROGRAMS:
AIDS Fund Philly: Our local connection to the AIDS Memorial Quilt that also provides emergency financial support to those living with HIV. For a great list of HIV resources check their website. Located at 2628 Orthodox St. Philadelphia, PA 19137. Phone: 215-731-9255
Pathways to Housing: In tandem with Action Wellness, participants receive help with transportation to appointments, medication management and assistance in housing for those who are experiencing chronic homelessness. Located at 5201 Old York Road, 4th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19141. Phone: 215- 390-1500
Have a question for Timaree? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.