Sunday, November 13, 2011

David Furnish Hopes to See AIDS Cure Soon

“At the core of the fight against AIDS is the fight against homophobia,” said David Furnish, chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and keynote speaker, at the U.S. Conference on AIDS in Chicago Thursday.

He spoke as a part of the National Minority AIDS Council’s 15th annual event to spread awareness of the disease, treatment and prevention. Though AIDS affects men and women, the council focused this year’s event on the effects it has on gay and bisexual men.

“This is the first time in the epidemic’s history that the number of infections of Latino gay and bisexual men outpaced African-American women,” said Paul A. Kawata, executive director of the council.

African-Americans account for almost half of all the people living with HIV in the United States, according to the council’s statistics.The Hispanic community has the second highest rate of HIV infections and has had an increase in HIV infections that was 2.5 times the rate of whites as of 2009, the most recently available data.

Furnish, who is Elton John’s partner, said that homophobia a is the reason gay young men still put themselves in danger by having unprotected sex.

“This risky behavior is driven by bigotry,” Furnish said. “In many American cities as many as 1 in 5 gay and bisexual men are HIV positive and half of those who are HIV positive have no awareness that they have the disease.”

As of 2009 20,676 Chicagoans reported that they are living with HIV/AIDS. According to the National Minority AIDS Council, male-to-male sex accounted for the largest proportion of HIV cases.

Though there is no cure for the disease, Furnish said that organizations have helped to prevent the spread of AIDS by answering “shame with love.” He cited two Chicago organizations for their leading roles in AIDS awareness and prevention, Walgreen Co. and Johnson Publishing, Inc. Both have joined Greater than AIDS, a national support organization in providing free testing and campaign promotion.

Furnish said that cuts in state budgets have stalled advancements in slowing infection rates and treatment of those with the disease. He mentioned Illinois as a state that had, cut funding that would have provided medication and treatment to newly infected patients in underserved and marginalized communities.

Furnish said the National Institutes of Health reported earlier this year that HIV positive individuals who receive effective anti-retro viral treatments are 96 percent less likely to pass the disease to their sexual partners.

“I expect my son Zachary to live to see a world without AIDS,” Furnish said.

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