After two years of a pandemic, with COVID on everyone’s mind, AIDS research fundraising may seem like a throwback. But like COVID, HIV is still infecting and killing people. Thus, this year’s annual Art for AIDS event is as much a careful reminder as it is a chance to raise money.
“AIDS fell out of favor almost immediately after the early 90s. The population’s attention span is very short. They move very quickly from one crisis to another,” said John Merz, CEO of Advancing Connecticut Together (ACT).
“It’s a challenge to let people know it’s still a problem. People need a reminder that on top of COVID, on top of monkey pox, on top of heart disease, there is this disease that is still part of the fabric of our society and we still have to pay attention to it.”
ACT will present the 13th annual Art for AIDS fundraiser on July 23 at ArtSpace Hartford. ACT is an umbrella agency that includes AIDS Connecticut, the CT Association for Human Services, the CT Center for Harm Reduction and Connecticut Pride.
Events like Art for AIDS pump funds into research programs and remind people that HIV is still a threat.
The most recent state statistics available, Merz said, collected in 2020, found 174 new cases diagnosed with HIV. While that may seem small compared to the tragic early days of AIDS, a troubling trend is increasingly being seen, he said: Nearly a quarter of people diagnosed already have symptoms or have developed symptoms a few months after being diagnosed. diagnosis. In 2020, 10,665 people were living with HIV disease in Connecticut, according to the ct.gov website, and according to the CDC, there were 18,489 deaths among people with HIV diagnosed in the United States in the same year.
“The progression of an HIV-infected person to the symptomatic stage has not changed. It’s always been seven to 10 years from the time of infection to the time symptoms appear,” Merz said. “The sooner people know about an infection, the sooner we can put them on medication and prolong their outlook symptoms or even stop it in its tracks.
“What’s so disappointing is that the last 24% of cases were living with the virus in their body for six, seven, eight years and they were completely forgotten. Meanwhile, all that time the virus was destroying their bodies at the cellular level and they were able to unwittingly transmit the virus to other people.”
In the early days of AIDS, people in high-risk communities were more vigilant and tested for HIV infection whether they felt sick or not, he said. Increasingly, since AIDS is no longer on their radar, people don’t go to the doctor unless they feel sick.
“People are no longer thinking of AIDS as a threat. It’s so last year’s news, out of the limelight,” he said. “People might think, ‘We’re so over this virus.’ But the virus never got past us. That’s the mindset of people. We get tired of the virus long before the virus gets tired of us.”
ACT travels the state offering HIV tests and home testing kits, and ACT promotes PREP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medication, Merz said, which can protect the body even before it becomes infected with HIV.
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Merz acknowledged that it may seem counterintuitive to suggest people take medication to fight a virus they haven’t yet had. But he said it’s a smart move for people in demographics vulnerable to infection.
“It’s almost like birth control. If you take it, you won’t get pregnant. “PREP is like birth control for HIV,” he said.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Art for AIDS took on different, less crowd-intensive forms in 2020 and 2021. The July 23 event will return to its pre-2020 form, a one-night gallery event. However, proof of vaccination is required at the door or proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of the event, accompanied by a matching photo ID. With those protections in place, masks are optional.
“The Art Heist” is the highlight of the evening. Each ticket holder receives a 14 x 14 piece of art donated by a local artist. The Winner’s Circle ($500 admission) will be the first group allowed to select art from the wall. Exclusive VIP ($250 entry) will be the second set. VIP ($125 admission) will be the third group. General admission ($75) will be the fourth set. Proceeds from admissions benefit ACT and The Richard B. Fried Fund for ACT at The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
Admission also includes refreshments, drinks and the opportunity to enter a raffle and purchase other artwork (80% of those profits go to the artists and 20% to ACT).
ART for AIDS starts at 7pm at the art gallery 555 Asylum Ave. Guests can park at Union Station across the street. act-ct.org/art-for-aids.html.
Susan Dunne can be reached at [email protected].