A vigil was held under the City Hall dome, lit red for the people who have died from AIDS and for those who are living with it, in 2015.
Sunday is World AIDS Day — a day to commemorate those who have died from AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses, to support those who are living with and affected by HIV, and to recommit to controlling and ending this epidemic. It is an opportunity to focus on what we can do together, as a community, to continue the progress we’ve made.
In Baltimore, we have made real progress in reducing the number of neighbors, friends, and family who are diagnosed with HIV each year. In 2018, fewer than 250 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Baltimore City — a substantial drop from the more than 1,000 people who were newly diagnosed annually in the early years of the epidemic.
We have accomplished this by working together, as a community with a robust network of people living with HIV, doctors, nurses, social workers, case managers, pharmacists, community organizations, and others providing support to those living with and affected by HIV.
However, there is still more work to do. More than 12,000 people in Baltimore are estimated to be living with HIV, though the weight of it is not shared evenly across our city. Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents, including young people, disproportionately experience the impact of HIV and difficulty accessing treatment.
Our goal — as a city, as a community — must be to ensure that everyone has access to the treatment and the resources they need to treat HIV, and to achieve viral load suppression, which means that HIV is no longer detectable in a person’s blood. It lets people with HIV live long and healthy lives, and it means they cannot pass HIV to their sexual partners. (For more information on the Undetectable = Untransmittable campaign, visit uequalsumaryland.org.)
And we need to continue to fight the stigma and shame that play such a large role in driving the epidemic and preventing people from discussing sexual health and seeking out HIV testing and care.
We must provide opportunities for education, for our youth to learn about sexual health in safe, informative, judgment free environments. We must open the conversation around sexual and reproductive health, and we must ensure our environments are safe and welcoming for LGBTQ individuals. We must ensure our seniors are educated about all matters related to their health, including sexual health.
All of this is possible. But it requires all of us — all of Baltimore — to continue to come together in a community-based approach to health promotion, with a focus on health and wellness for all of the city’s residents.
Communities can be powerful forces for change. In my experience serving and leading residents in Baltimore, I have seen communities work together to achieve things long thought impossible. We’re committed to working together to make a difference — to end the HIV epidemic.
Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a Democrat, is Baltimore mayor. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his Twitter handle is @mayorbcyoung. He will host a celebration of life on Monday at City Hall, in recognition of World Aids Day from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.