When Phil Wilson first contracted the AIDS virus, his family and friends never thought that he’d see his 28th birthday.
But instead of resigning himself to such a grim fate, Wilson started the Black AIDS Institute in his home in 1999 and has since worked tirelessly to raise money and awareness about a disease that he knows firsthand doesn’t have to be death sentence.
“Over the last eight years, we have made tremendous progress and basically we are just about at the end of the AIDS epidemic,” said Wilson on the eve of the annual World AIDS Day on Thursday, Dec. 1.
But on this World AIDS Day, Wilson is clearly worried.
“We are already getting calls from patients and clients worried that they are going to lose their health insurance,” he said. “The Affordable Care Act is a very important prevention tool.”
Though the day of observance is partly a celebration of the inroads made in combating the disease, Wilson said this year is somewhat clouded by the election of Donald Trump to the White House.
“Many of us are worried that the gains we have made might be stymied or, worse, we might lose ground because President-elect Trump has talked about repealing the Affordable Care Act and many people living with HIV/AIDS might lose their health care,” he said.
While progress has been made in terms of treating the disease, Wilson said that African-Americans are still disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.
“We are about 10 percent of the population but 44 percent of the new cases of people with HIV and AIDS,” he said.
From Los Angeles to D.C., soldiers in the battle against HIV and AIDS are using World AIDS Day to remind people that it’s war that can be won — if everyone does their part.
Guy Weston, executive director of the DC Cares Consortium, said that after decades of progress, treatment options for people living with HIV or AIDS should not be politicized now by Trump or anybody else.
“We have so much progress in the last 16 years — even President George W. Bush pushed programs,” said Weston, whose organization is one of the many District-based service providers for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Herman Williams, a case manager with Us Helping Us, sounded an optimistic tone on the eve of World AIDS Day, which began in 1988.
“We have come to a point in the HIV/AIDS cycle where it is no longer a death sentence,” Williams said in an interview. “If you take your medicine, you can live a regular life. We have come a super long way in the last 30 years, but we have more work to do. Too much money is being spent on the pharmaceutical side.”
Equally as important as medicine is proper education, said Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor and recipient of the Black AIDS Institute’s Heroes in the Struggle award.
“Prevention and education are so important, and it’s just that simple,” Thomas said. “There will be new methodologies and new technologies to up our game in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
According to the Black AIDS institute, while African-Americans make up 44 percent of the new HIV diagnoses, some preventative medications such as Truvada are not an option because they never heard of it.
Crissey Taylor, youth program coordinator of the Women’s Collective in DC, said that her group is hosting a fashion show at Busboys and Poets in Takoma Park, Maryland, in recognition of World AIDS Day.
“The purpose is to spread the word to the youth and to promote the pre-exposure prophylactics,” Taylor said. “Prevention is extremely important. The fashion show is just away to attract the youth. We also host block parties and other community events. I call it ‘edutainment.’”