Learning to live with HIV can be quite challenging. An even bigger challenge is to be HIV-positive and not know it.
D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health Foundation held its 30th annual Whitman-Walker Health’s Walk & 5K to End HIV on Saturday, continuing its quest to help the roughly 1.2 million Americans living with HIV and thousands unknowingly infected with the virus.
Nearly 3,000 participants, including women and children, converged on Freedom Plaza in Northwest for the event, which featured speakers such as D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and former D.C. Council member Jim Graham, onetime executive director of Whitman-Walker.
The event is part of the foundation’s ongoing push for high-quality, culturally competent community health services, with special expertise in LGBT and HIV care.
“Letting people know, that knowing their status and knowing about themselves and how healthy they are is empowering,” said Abby Fenton, Whitman-Walker Health’s chief external affairs officer. “It is a way for the people to take control of their destinies and really live the most fulfilled lives that they can.”
An estimated one in eight persons infected with HIV do not know, and the black population accounts for almost half of all new HIV infections, despite only making up 12 percent of the American population, according to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
“Symbolically, the walk, at one time, was a walk for those you could not physically walk for themselves and was meant to show support for those who were really suffering from the AIDS epidemic,” Fenton said. “But now, we have so many longtime survivors at our walks and 5Ks and so many others using our clinics and services to continue to better themselves.”
Though donations for the Saturday event are still pouring in, Fenton estimates the annual fundraiser generated nearly $700,000, which will help to support projects such as their dental and medical programs, HIV/STD testing, youth services and community trainings.
The foundation, chartered in 1978, has two clinics located at 1701 14th Street in Northwest and 2301 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast. It lists its free HIV and STD testing days and locations on its website, including a Nov. 22 date in Columbia Heights from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.
The foundation aims to offset the disproportionate numbers that show black women having the highest female number of infections compared to their white and Hispanic counterparts.
“We are trying to be as present in the African-American community as we can be,” Fenton said. “We know that we need to do more in being present in the African-American community, so that has been a real focus for us.”