March 18 2013 12:00 AM

LAAN commemorates World AIDS Day by recalling the fallen, continuing the fight

A portion of the Names Project quilt, which commemorates AIDS victims, was on display during this afternoon's program.
Thursday, Dec. 1 — Community supporters joined with the Lansing Area AIDS Network today to commemorate victims of AIDS and renew the fight to ensure medical access for all victims worldwide.
“Observing World AIDS Day is a reminder that HIV/AIDS has not gone away and there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said radio personality Tim Barron, the emcee for the event, which took place at East Lansing’s Hannah Community Center.
Every nine-and-a-half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV, according to LAAN’s website. It is estimated that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV or AIDS and 50,000 Americans become infected every year.
Despite those statistics, this year’s observance carried a theme of hope called “Getting to Zero,” Barron said. The theme reflects the organization’s desire for zero new infections; zero AIDS-related deaths and zero stigmas attached to AIDS patients.
“We have a moral responsibility to ensure that those who are HIV positive and those living with AIDS have access to the anti-retroviral drugs that can save their lives,” said the Rev. Kari Nicewander, pastor at Edgewood United Church of Christ in East Lansing. Nicewander spoke of her trips to an Ethiopian orphanage dedicated to children who are HIV positive. The children receive medication, an education from staff workers and are thriving despite their disease, she said.
Many speakers discussed recent funding shortfalls that have put AIDS treatment programs in jeopardy.
“We are facing a time now when the government is losing sight of the importance of funding AIDS services,” said Maxine Thome, LAAN board president. “HIV is not gone, it’s continually changing faces, and we need to make sure that every face is made clear to our legislators.”
Jacob Distel, LAAN’s executive director, echoed Thome’s call to action.
“Not treating people with HIV is probably the most expensive mistake we can make,” he said. “Without substantial improvements there will be 1.2 million new HIV patients in the U.S. over the next 20 years. Those new infections will cost the nation at least a half-trillion dollars (in treatment costs).”
Nicewater encouraged attendees to get involved by writing letters to the White House to continue federal funding of AIDS programs. Barron encouraged everyone to continue to discuss the AIDS epidemic with neighbors and friends to keep the fight on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The program also included moments of remembrance for those who had fallen to AIDS or HIV. A memory tree filled with ornaments with the names of people who had died stood in the back of the room. A portion of the Names Project quilt, which commemorates AIDS victims, was also on display. LanSING Out Gay Men’s Choir performed two pieces in remembrance. The program concluded with a short candlelight vigil.
“There’s still so much that needs to be done, so much that can be done,” Distel said. “It is not as simple as pointing fingers across the aisle, it is not as simple as passing blame. It is not as simple as a Democrat or Republican issue — it is a human issue.
“The battle will not be easy,” he continued. “It never was.”