Individuals and groups from across the state came to the Capitol on Wednesday to promote awareness of the growing need for support for people living with the HIV and AIDS during the 11th annual AIDS Awareness Day.
The rally, put on by the CT AIDS Resource Coalition (CARC), focused on unifying the search for a cure, and continuing efforts to bring more funding to the HIV and AIDS programs across the state.
While many of these programs were largely spared in the budget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law last week, Shawn Lang, co-chair of the AIDS Life campaign, said she hopes labor unions are able to reach an agreement with the governor because the options presented in his ‘Plan B’ budget aren’t pretty. She said the alternative budget proposes a 10 percent cut to the syringe exchange program and a 10 percent cut to AIDS housing.
Ironically, the first annual HIV and AIDS Awareness Day was held at the Capitol when the federal government cut $1 million from AIDS housing. Lang said the state ended up funding the gap 11 years ago.
House Speaker Chris Donovan imparted a message that the General Assembly and state Comptroller Kevin Lembo are working together to improve healthcare, which he stressed is necessary to help create better outcomes for people living with AIDS.
Aiming to promote awareness amongst legislatures, CARC organized this rally to help people in the community share their stories and reach out to their lawmakers. The AIDS epidemic was discovered just 30 years ago and it’s easy for complacency to set in, Lang said.
Living with HIV for 6 years, Rain Pandorah, 22, is a Hartford resident who knows that the fight is not over.
“I am not going to be beaten by HIV,” said Pandorah. “I am going to beat HIV.”
Pandorah gave a speech urging a new level of support and funding from the legislature.
“We are going to continue fighting this and we are going to fight this until the end,” Pandorah said.
Lawmakers who spoke during the rally noted that the fight to find a cure, and to increase standards for people living with HIV and AIDS is not over.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said that the issue may not appear on the front pages of the paper, or get talked about that much, but it is still here.
“I just hope there comes a time that we have one last rally,” said Wyman.
The push for awareness came with a message from Leif Mitchell that there are lawmakers who are not removed from the problem.
Sen. John McKinney, whose father, former Congressman Stewart McKinney, died from complications brought on by AIDS over 24 years ago, noted that progress and support can only be made when people demand it.
“You’re being here every year, you’re reminding us of what’s happening,” said McKinney. ”The lieutenant governor said that it isn’t in the headlines anymore but that doesn’t mean its not impacting families and lives everyday.”
According to a report from the state Department of Health, there were nearly 19,000 people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the state in 2006, with a little over half of those people reported and registered with the state.