EVERYBODY’S PROBLEM

On Saturday, September 24, the Vermont Committee for AIDS Resources, Education & Services (VT CARES) had a beautiful sunny day for their ninth annual AIDS Walk. The crowd warmed up with jazzercise to “I Will Survive” and Sambatucada provided a marching beat as walkers made their way from City Hall Park down College St., up Battery St., and back to the park along Pearl St. Anna Swenson of VT CARES estimates that about 150 people participated, mostly from the Burlington area. Members of Lyndon State College’s Kappa Delta Phi fraternity came from all the way across the state to join the walk. “This is our second year, and we hope to make it an annual event,” says president Brandon Wahl. Among the walkers were about twelve members of UVM’s HIV/AIDS Task Force, which is dedicated to awareness and education. “The AIDS Walk is one of the best ways to spread awareness about the disease and our group’s efforts,” says co-president Lauren Koenig. After the walk, Congressman Bernie Sanders gave a speech calling for a focused effort on helping those dealing with HIV and AIDS. Peter Jacobsen, who became the executive director of VT CARES in May, spoke about his organization’s programs and goals. A simple survey about HIV testing circulated prior to the walk, asking if people would choose a traditional HIV test or a rapid HIV test and how much they would be willing to pay. VT CARES is promoting OraSure’s OraQuick Advance oral fluid test. It involves a simple mouth swab and is rather similar to a pregnancy test, and results can be had in twenty to thirty minutes – as opposed to two weeks for the test currently in use. The rapid test is a crucial tool for detecting HIV in this largely rural state. It is difficult for high-risk populations and those in rural areas to return for their test results two weeks after the fact. And since testing is anonymous, VT CARES cannot take action on positive test results if people don’t return. The Vermont Department of Health has refused to fund OraQuick Advance, leaving VT CARES to rely on a private grant to fund a test that costs twenty dollars for the equipment alone. Late last year, VT CARES decided not to accept $100,000 in funding from the CDC, believing that new directives issued under the Bush administration would go against its mission to provide accessible, safe, confidential, non-judgmental prevention for people at risk of HIV. VT CARES relies on donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations for over 30 percent of its income. This year’s AIDS Walk raised $11,000, far exceeding expectations. One of the signs carried by the walkers stated a sobering fact: 75 percent of people living with HIV don’t know they have it. This is one reason the mission of VT CARES is so important. The signs also made other points worth remembering: if you’ve had sex, you’re at risk; AIDS is nobody’s fault and everybody’s problem. HIV infection and AIDS are preventable with education and awareness. For more information, check out VT CARES’ website at http://www.vtcares.org, and the Task Force’s website at http://www.uvm.edu/~service/program.php?prog=10. And next year, look for signs about the AIDS Walk so you can show your support.