AIDS Walk Philly continues to raise funds to help people with HIV live well

Squares from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which will be on display at the annual AIDS Walk Philly. (Photo: Phil Mantas)

“We want to make sure that the community understands that HIV is still an issue in our community,” said Robb Reichard, executive director of AIDS Fund Philly, which produces the annual AIDS Walk Philly. The annual fundraising event will take place Oct. 15 on Kelly Drive, beginning at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the Reading of Names to honor those whose lives were lost to HIV/AIDS.

An opening ceremony will follow, and the walk itself begins at 8:30 a.m. AIDS Walk Philly raised about $300,000 last year and the AIDS Fund team hopes this year’s walk will bring in a similar amount.

The funds will go toward the AIDS Fund grant program, which provides small grants to people who need assistance getting housing, paying their rent or utility bills, or who need help getting walkers, canes, refrigerators for meds, and other medical supplies. 

“Our grants are small; they average just $420,” Reichard said. “But they can be life-saving for people who are about to be evicted or have their utilities shut off, or [who] need that walker or hearing aid. The funds raised are really critical for keeping people healthy and their ability to live a long, healthy life with HIV.”

In addition to providing funds for people living with HIV, AIDS Fund provides educational resources. 

“We have made tremendous strides and we want to make sure people know about the strides that have been made,” Reichard said. 

He pointed out that if someone with HIV has an undetectable viral load, they can’t transmit the virus to someone else. 

Informing people about PrEP is another part of the education that AIDS Fund provides. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, only about 30% of the 1.2 million people who can benefit from taking PrEP were actually prescribed the drug. 

“We really need to make sure people are aware of it and have access to it,” Reichard said.  

Despite the advances in medication and treatment that have allowed people to live long lives with HIV, there still exist challenges, especially when it comes to getting testing, care and education to people of color, who are living with HIV at higher rates than their white counterparts. 

According to the 2021 CDC HIV Surveillance Report, “racial and ethnic differences in new HIV diagnoses persist.” The report showed that Black and African-American people accounted for 40% of new HIV diagnoses in 2021; Hispanic/Latino people made up 29% of new diagnoses, and white people made up 25% of HIV diagnoses. 

In the Greater Philadelphia Area, roughly 30,000 people are living with HIV, and Philadelphians are contracting the virus at a frequency five times that of the national average, according to AIDS Fund.

“We have the issues that we need to address across the health care system around race and access to care,” Reichard said. “People of color are disproportionately impacted by HIV. Poverty remains a driving issue of HIV. We can’t ignore those issues while we’re trying to address the HIV epidemic.”

The Philly AIDS Walk will have 25 blocks of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display, as has been the case since 2004, made possible by a collaboration with the National AIDS Memorial. The quilt is a dynamic memorial to the people who passed away from HIV/AIDS, and is made up of more than 50,000 panels that memorialize more than 105,000 people. Each panel is made by friends and family members of those who have passed. AIDS Fund keeps panels of the quilt on display year-round as an educational tool and to honor those who lost their lives.

“We must never forget those that have come before us who have passed and we want to honor and remember them,” Reichard said. “The AIDS Memorial Quilt is a beautiful way of doing that. Every panel is unique, just as every person we’ve lost to this pandemic is unique.”

Those interested in participating in AIDS Walk Philly can register as a 5K walker and aim to raise at least $50 so they can get an AIDS Walk Philly 5K T-shirt and walk the route at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 15. Another way to participate is to volunteer to help ensure safety at the event. For more information and to register online, visit www.aidswalkphilly.org.