Hundreds participate in St. Pete AIDS Walk listen09/15/08 Concetta DeLuco
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Lots of sunshine provided the backdrop for the fourth Annual AIDS Walk St. Petersburg on Saturday. Hundreds gathered in North Shore Park to provide support and participate in the event with the goal of raising funds and awareness for AIDS research and prevention.
The walk was sponsored by AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (ASAP), a division of the Hospice of Florida Suncoast and a nonprofit agency that provides services to people living with or affected by AIDS.
Carlos Milan is the volunteer coordinator for ASAP and the AIDS Walk. He said the monetary goal for the walk was $125,000, but with more than 60 corporate teams, including Macyâ€™s and Walgreens, he expects the walk will raise even more.
Having lived with HIV for the past two decades, Milan said the AIDS Walk serves a dual purpose, raising funds and awareness, which are important in battling the virus. In the 20 years since the disease first appeared, Milan has seen many of his friends die because of the lack of medications that have only become available in the last decade. And while there are many treatments today, there is still room for improvement.
A study released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that the majority of people newly infected with the HIV virus in the United States are gay and bisexual men, and blacks are most at risk.
While those in attendance at the walk were members of the gay and black community, the diversity of the crowd was a reflection that the AIDS virus infects and affects many other people as well.
Ivan Tucker, a participant in the walk, has lost many relatives and close friends to the disease. He said knowledge of the virus is crucial in preventing â€œunnecessaryâ€ deaths.
Beth Fountain is a member of Vote No On 2, a group protesting Amendment 2 and the Marriage Protection Act that will ban gay marriages. She said that while AIDS is terrible, it should not be used as a political wedge.
With the large turnout, the AIDS Walk appeared to be a success. Yet, to some in attendance the walk is not enough. Estella Sanders is a participant who had a few suggestions on how awareness can be increased significantly. Among these ideas, Sanders said she feels the event needs to be held more than once a year.
Globally there are more than 33 million people living with the AIDS. In the United States, more than 1 million people have HIV or AIDS and at least 40,000 new cases are contracted each year. Sanders said there is a growing need for the dangers of unsafe sex to become part of the curriculum in school.
And with Florida have the third largest reported cases of AIDS among U.S. states, the Aids Walk will continue to be held each year to raise money for research and prevention.