Health & Wellness, Springfield

HIV Alliance ceremony honors World AIDs Day

In remembrance of lost loved ones to AIDS, attendees of the HIV Alliance’s World AIDS Day Ceremony throw roses into the Willamette River. Aliya Hall/The Chronicle

SPRINGFIELD – Roses floated down the Willamette River on Dec. 1 in remembrance of those who lost their lives to AIDS.
As the world honored AIDS Day, the HIV Alliance met at the Willamalane Adult Activity Center for a ceremony to honor those who are working toward curing and treating the human immunodeficiency virus, those living with HIV and those who lost the battle.
As of 2016, the World Health Organization cited 675,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS in the United States since the beginning of the HIV epidemic. In Oregon alone, 8,000 people are living with HIV, Executive Director Renee Yandel said, and this reception is not just a time to remember, but also a call to action.
”Looking at things like polio, if we’re not vigilant, they come back,” she explained, ”and this event is meant for people to remember what it was like when people weren’t vigilant. Until there’s a cure, we have to stay focused.”
The ceremony opened with the Eugene Gay Men’s Chorus, which performed three holiday songs, before introducing guest speaker and federal Judge Michael McShane. McShane legalized gay marriage in 2014 when he struck down the same-sex marriage ban.
He reflected back on 1988, before there was treatment for HIV, when he was interviewing for a legal position at 27. He was asked where he saw himself in 10 years, which gave him pause – two weeks before, his partner, Scott, had collapsed due to AIDS complications and was diagnosed. That same year, two of his closest friends died.
”Ten years was a lot for many of us to think about,” he said. Even though he got the job, when he explained that he would need a flexible start date because he was caring for his dying, 24-year-old partner, he was told there was a hiring freeze; instead, the firm hired a classmate of his.
McShane explained that the HIV epidemic helped create the LGBTQ+ community as it is today, because at the time ”gay people didn’t exist” until men started dying of AIDS. He said that there is concern in the community that the younger generation of queer individuals won’t understand what the older generations have gone through, but McShane said that, ”hopefully they won’t have to.”
”Hopefully they will learn and know there’s work to do,” he explained. ”Living with HIV is not a moral failing.”
The HIV Alliance then honored local U=U (”Undetectable equals Untransmittable”) heroes; theh program focuses on preventative care such as PrEP prescriptions. At PeaceHealth, Drs. Brenda Ormesher, Jason Cronin, Kialing Perez and Robert Pelz received awards, as did their medical director, Dr. Robert Barnes; Lane County Public Health employees Carolina Arredondo Sanchez-Lira, Patrick Luedtke and Lisandra Guzman; and Community Health Centers of Lane County employees Drs. Gail Hacker and Bill Walter.
Yandel said that six out of 10 Oregonians haven’t been tested for HIV and don’t know their status. Along with the disease being a burden to people living with it, it is also a cost to the public healthcare system. Yandel said the price of care is $1 million for that person’s lifetime.
”It’s important for the cost of healthcare and individuals at risk, and because of that it’s important to all of us,” she said.
Beyond preventative care, Jade Lazaris, development coordinator for the HIV Alliance, said that helping to end the stigma surrounding HIV is one way for everyone to get involved.
”It’s taking the time to learn the facts about HIV and not promoting the stigma,” she said.



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