Metro Atlanta marked World AIDS Day on Wednesday with calls for increased funding, proclamations, press conferences and vigils – even turning City Hall red with the help of rapper Big Boi.
The celebrations and solemn remembrances played out against a double-shot of sobering headlines: Georgia is a leader in the U.S. in HIV diagnoses and AIDS cases at a time when its AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) has a waiting list of nearly 800 people and could top 1,300 by spring.
“It is absolutely unforgivable that in this day and age, a state like Georgia would have a waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program,” Jeff Graham (top photo), executive director of Georgia Equality, told a crowd of about 50 people during a rally inside the State Capitol.
Graham joined with several groups, including SisterLove and AIDGwinnett, to call on Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and state lawmakers to boost ADAP funding by $5 million to address a waiting list that grows by about 30 people a week and has become the second-largest in the U.S. The program provides HIV medication to low- and moderate-income people without private insurance.
“The ADAP medications are here to prolong life, so not only on this day do we need to remember what is going on, we need to just remember it is a human right. We need to have medical access. Without those opportunities, our lives will be affected,” said Delrosa Winston Harris of SisterLove. “We need to get funding. We need to get it soon.”
At the end of the press conference, Graham and other attendees delivered about 1,200 “Save ADAP” postcards signed by people across the state to the governor’s office.
“We are asking Gov. Deal to continue to provide leadership by making funding for ADAP a priority in his first budget to the legislature. This is a program that has received broad, popular, bipartisan support,” Graham said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Graham joined Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves (second photo), who proclaimed “World AIDS Day and Save Georgia’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program Awareness Day.” Fulton County oversees the federally-funded Ryan White program for 20 counties in metro Atlanta.
“We make a major investment in dealing with HIV and AIDS, so it is my pleasure and honor to present this proclamation to our partners in the community and our staff who work with the Ryan White program,” Eaves said.
The Atlanta City Council also took note of the day, proclaiming it “World AIDS Day in the City of Atlanta.” Alex Wan, the Council’s only openly gay member, read the proclamation during a press conference on the steps of City Hall organized by Mayor Kasim Reed.
“I want to echo my appreciation for the mayor’s leadership on this issue,” Wan said. “It helps us fight the complacency around the disease, a disease that is completely preventable.”
The mayor — flanked by Wan, local HIV activists, federal health officials and Grammy-award winning rapper and producer Big Boi — called attention to Georgia ranking fourth among states for the highest estimated number of HIV diagnoses in a 12-month period. Reed urged people “to get informed, to get tested, to get involved.”
“We must all be reminded that this battle is far from over. The toll that AIDS and HIV is taking on our community is an alarming one,” said Reed (bottom photo with Wan). “This effort is vital. We’ve got to do more. The people who are here, standing shoulder to shoulder with me today, are committed not only to a local effort but to a global effort. So that’s why we are here to literally paint the town red.”
“World AIDS Day and our participation in it is critical because it renews focus on the subject and encourages people to get informed, to get tested, to get involved,” Reed added.
Tracy Elliott, executive director of AID Atlanta, lauded the efforts of Reed and Wan for reminding Atlantans about the continuing struggle against HIV. Those efforts, he said, help get more HIV-positive people tested and treated.
“AIDS still rages in the streets of Atlanta,” Elliott said. “The fight continues. We are in this fight every day and we will not give up until we claim victory.”