Hunts Point walks for people with HIV

Natalie Lally

Residents and activists walked down Hunts Point Avenue joined at the fourth annual AIDS Walk.

Activists urge education at fourth annual AIDS Walk

A swarm of red made its way across Hunts Point Avenue on the last Saturday in May, as some 50 participants dressed in crimson t-shirts came out to show their support for people with the HIV virus, at the fourth Annual Hunts Point AIDS Walk. The event was organized by Community Board 2 and sponsored by Urban Health Plan, Inc., Affinity Health Plan, and WellCare.

“The purpose is to provide awareness to the community,” said Luis Marrero, the chairman of Board 2’s health committee. “We have to let them know that they have to do something about it.”

Some of the participants held up signs they had designed themselves to draw attention to the fact the disease is still decimating lives, more than 30 years after it was first discovered. One walker held up a placard pointing out that a quarter of  those who have the infection are between 13 and 24 years old.

“We want to enlighten people of the dangers of AIDS,” said Cedric McClester, who serves on the board’s youth and education committees. He said it was particularly urgent to ramp up efforts to educate the younger generation about the risk of infection. “We want our community to live, thrive, and survive.”

In 2013, 31.4 percent of city residents who died of complications from AIDS were from the Bronx, the highest percentage from among the five boroughs, according to a 2014 report by the city health department. In addition, Hunts Point/Mott Haven had the ninth highest percentage of HIV diagnoses out of 42 neighborhoods citywide, with 47 diagnoses per 100,000 inhabitants.

Pastor Reggie Stutzman of the New Life Church, who has participated in the annual event every year since it was launched four years ago, led participants in prayers recited over the course of the walk.

“I’ve always walked,” said Stutzman. “I’m so glad the community comes together for this.”

The community board’s district manager, Rafael Salamanca, said local health facilities and clinics are well equipped for residents to go and get tested for the infection. As the walk ended at Msr. Raul Del Valle Square on Hunts Point Avenue by the 6 train station, a health fair began on cue.

“We have BOOM! Health here, and they are doing HIV counseling and testing, and that’s really key,” said Salamanca.

Natalie Lally

Participants danced to draw attention to the cause.

People who have the AIDS virus often suffer from other infectious diseases as well, due to complications from the illness. According to a 2012 report by the health department, Hunts Point ranks among the top fifth of neighborhoods in the city where residents suffer from hepatitis C, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and/or tuberculosis.

Board member Mildred Colon, who organized the first area AIDS walk four years ago, said educating the public and stopping the spread of the infection remains a realistic goal, but one that requires a coordinated effort between residents and health providers. A recent increase in AIDS related deaths is an indication that, despite decades of progress fighting the disease, it has not gone away, said Colon, who volunteers for Jacobi Medical Center’s Adult Consultation Services.

Hunts Point will not abandon those who continue to fight the disease, Colon insisted.

“I want everybody to understand that you don’t have to die alone,” she said.

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