Wisconsinites walk and run to confront a deadly enemy – shepherd express

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) comprise a spectrum of human health conditions caused by infection with the virus. It has an insidious way of behaving post-infection; other than perhaps a brief period of flu-like symptoms, the HIV-contracting person may not notice anything amiss for a long period of time. Without an HIV screening, he or she often lives completely oblivious to the pernicious virus inside them—that is, until symptoms of illness do finally come about.

As an HIV infection progresses, it interferes with the immune system, thus rendering the person with it increasingly defenseless against further viral infections. A person is generally spoken of as “dying from AIDS,” but the fact is that such an unfortunate individual has, instead, died of a much more common infection against which they were rendered helpless due to HIV’s decimation of their immune system.

HIV/AIDS was long associated exclusively (and erroneously) with gay men, sometimes being referred to as “gay cancer” or the “gay disease.” But the virus cares not what your age, race, sex, skin color, nationality, income level or sexual orientation is; you only have to be human. It is spread primarily by unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding, and, alas, HIV has thus far proven itself rather immune to a curative vaccine. However, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy.

Treatment is most successful when an HIV infection is diagnosed early; without treatment, the average survival time after infection is 11 years. Recent medical breakthroughs have increased both life expectancy and quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS, but there is no “medical breakthrough” for its proliferation. Throughout the world, about 36.7 million people were living with HIV (and it resulted in one million deaths) in 2016, the most recent year for which we have reliable numbers. From the time AIDS was identified in the early 1980s to 2017, it has killed an estimated 35 million people. HIV/AIDS is an ongoing global pandemic which continues to have an enormous impact on society—both as an illness and as a source of discrimination.

“Unfortunately, there is a misperception about how patients manage HIV and AIDS,” explains Michael Gifford, president and CEO of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW)—the organization that is putting on its 29th-annual AIDS Walk and 5K Run on Saturday, Oct. 6. “Many pharmaceutical companies will have paid advertising showing people with HIV mountain climbing, and, while we’re happy for those folks, the reality is that the one-pill-a-day regimen only works for a portion of our patients; the issues of side effects and accelerated aging make HIV very complicated to live with.”

Bigotry against those living with HIV/AIDS remains a problem. “The history of the AIDS epidemic is full of commentary that I have found at times to be sad and at other times ridiculous and maddening, but almost 15 years into my work, I’ve come to a brighter realization that the AIDS epidemic will not be defined by this,” explains Dan Mueller, ARCW’s vice president and chief development officer. “I think over time it will be known for the human achievement in response to this disease. This includes how effectively the LGBTQ community organized to address this, how science improved lives through new, powerful drugs, amazing software that helps our clinics do their jobs even more effectively and even how the democratization and mobilization of philanthropy is helping bring health to those with HIV.”

“We cannot give up this ground, though, he continues. “When you register and raise pledges for AIDS Walk Wisconsin, you’re providing social justice by leveling a playing field for people who really need our help, you’re ensuring equal access to high-quality healthcare; you’re strengthening the very medical home model of care that is an example to the country in how HIV patients live longer and healthier lives with their disease. Plus, we promise a good time. Activism still counts even if you’re having fun.” Making Good on a Promise

Those are certainly sobering words for anyone today who thinks that, though there may not be a cure per se for HIV/AIDS, there certainly are veritably cure-like treatments available. ARCW’s professionals know better, however, and their goal is not only to offer a full range of services—including medical, mental health and dental treatment, access to a food pantry and to social service professionals—but also to educate and inform. Much of the funding for these precious services comes from ARCW’s largest fundraiser, their Milwaukee Lakefront annual walk and run.

“This benefit makes good on a promise that everybody with HIV in Wisconsin gets access to outstanding health care, regardless of their ability to pay,” Gifford said. “Wisconsin is one of the few states in the country that has never had a waiting list for HIV care treatment, and efforts like the AIDS Walk and Run allow us to keep it that way.”

AIDS Walk Wisconsin and 5K Run is not only the largest ARCW fundraising event of the year, but it is the largest HIV/AIDS fundraising event in Wisconsin. Since 1990, the annual walk/run has raised more than $13.1 million and has brought together more than 128,000 walkers, runners and volunteers—all of whom raise pledges from friends, family and coworkers in the community. “One hundred percent of the pledges raised from AIDS Walk Wisconsin has stayed in Wisconsin for the fight against HIV here,” says Mueller. The event starts and finishes at Henry Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Drive. Highlights include morning entertainment and activities, refreshments and an opening program with special guests. The route is fully supported with themed rest stops, medical support and food and water locations.

The AIDS Walk/Run also has a long tradition of notable honorary chairs; these have included Jane Lynch, Taye Diggs, Lance Bass, Michael Turchin, Tim Gunn, Clay Matthews, Bette Midler, Ryan Braun, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Bon Iver. This year’s honorary chair is actor, producer, director and singer Matthew Bomer. Known for his many theater, film and television performances, Bomer’s accolades include a Golden Globe Award and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for his supporting role as Felix Turner on the HBO film The Normal Heart (2014). He is married to publicist Simon Halls, with whom he parents three children.

Bomer has also been the recipient of the Steve Chase Humanitarian Award and a 2012 Inspiration Award for his work at the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) awards. “He has said coming across the script for The Normal Heart in high school set him on the course to pursue acting as a career,” says Mueller. “He directed The Assassination of Gianni Versace and recently completed a run on Broadway in The Boys In The Band, to high acclaim. He is an attractive personality whose life and work has supported the fight against AIDS, and we are excited to be working with him.” Walk, Run, Volunteer, Sponsor, Donate!

At ARCW, no one is ever turned away due to an inability to pay for its services. Among ARCW patients, in fact, 94% live in poverty. Currently, some 60% of young people with HIV don’t even know they are carrying the virus. As the need for services continues to grow, ARCW seeks to remain on the forefront of HIV health care and AIDS prevention.

What does the annual walk/run accomplish? The event’s website explains it best: “We walk to make the fight against AIDS stronger. Today, more than 6,900 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Wisconsin, and it’s estimated that an additional 1,000 are undiagnosed but living with the disease. We walk to make sure that anyone who is living with HIV in Wisconsin has access to life-saving health care and social programs. When you register and fundraise, you help people living with HIV live longer, healthier lives.”

Lest you think it’s way past time to get involved yourself, Mueller says, “I have a saying: It’s never too late to get involved in the fight against AIDS, and our outstanding Milwaukee Brewer, Ryan Braun [2012’s honorary chair], thinks so as well. Ryan has issued a challenge to the good people of Wisconsin: For every dollar raised in the last eight days before the walk, he will personally match every pledge—dollar for dollar—up to $25,000 through the Brewers Community Foundation. So, not only is not too late to get involved, someone who registers now and makes a pledge (or secures someone else’s pledge) can help us acquire an extra $50,000 by the time of the walk. It all counts!”

At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, the gates open at the Summerfest grounds with open registration for walkers and runners, a continental breakfast, children’s tent activities and even beer samples from AIDS Walk Wisconsin/5K Run’s presenting sponsor, MillerCoors. An hour later, the 5K Run begins, followed closely by mainstage entertainment and an awards ceremony for 2018’s top fundraisers. At noon, there’s an opening ceremony, and the Walk kicks-off at 12:30 p.m. Though online registration for the 5K Run closes Thursday, Oct. 4 at 5 p.m., walk-up registration is available for $35 the day of the event. The event’s deadline for fundraising incentives is Monday, Nov. 12.

For more information about the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, call 800-359-9272 or visit arcw.org. For more information about the 2018 AIDS Walk Wisconsin/5K Run, call 800-348-WALK (9255) or visit aidswalkwis.org. Tags AIDS Walk Wisconsin and 5K Run Matthew Bomer AIDS Milwaukee Lakefront Millercoors AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin Mike Gifford HIV Henry Maier Festival Park