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New Memorial Revealed on World AIDS Day

New York City’s first AIDS memorial was unveiled on World AIDS Day earlier this month. New HIV cases in the city are at their lowest rate since 1981 and no HIV positive babies were born in 2016 according to city health authorities. But while progress has been made, there’s still work to be done. Chloe Nevitt reports.

CN 1: There’s a reading of the names of people who have died of AIDS at a vigil the evening of the unveiling of the AIDS memorial.

SOUND: Reading of the names at vigil (00:03)

CN 2: The AIDS memorial is on the corner of 12th street and Greenwich Avenue. An 18 foot, white lattice structure dominates the scene. There’s a fountain in the middle and reflections dance on the water. Art Bender was at the ceremony. He says the memorial reminds him of the time he lost a friend to AIDS.

AB 1: It was tough, it was a real surprise. They didn’t know what it was at the time. (00:04)

CN 3: Since 1981, 100,000 New Yorkers have died of AIDS. Andy Velez has worked as an HIV activist in New York for over 20 years. During the epidemic, he says reading the New York Times obituaries was a daily ritual. He remembers when his friend Oliver Johnson died.

AV 1: Someone came up to me and said, Oliver passed away. I said, not Oliver. He was such a decent guy. He deserved a better ending in life than to be swept away in this. (00:17)

CN 4: But that was two decades ago. A lot of progress has been made for people living with HIV. Jeremiah Johnson is the HIV prevention research and policy coordinator for Treatment Action Group, a nonprofit focused on accelerating treatment research. He says a lot of people don’t know about modern treatment and prevention strategies. (00:15)

JJ 1: There’s essentially an HIV birth control pill that you can take every day that can drastically reduce your risk. (00:10)

CN 5: That pill is PReP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. It protects people who are HIV negative from getting infected. Christian Grov, a researcher at the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training, says PrEP has been a success.

CG 1: They estimate that between 80 and 100,000 people are on PrEP and so far only two people have contracted HIV while they’re on PrEP. (00:05)

CN 6: Most of the researchers I spoke to agree. PReP works. But Grov says there’s a Catch-22, and PrEP might make an already bad situation worse.

CG 2: Recent data came out that said that 75 percent of the men that were taking PReP were white and 10 percent of the men that were taking PrEP were black. (00:20)

CN 7: According to the New York City Department of Health, 50 percent of new HIV cases and AIDS-related deaths are among blacks. And Treatment Action Group’s Jeremiah Johnson says research has shown it’s not because these men are having more unprotected sex.

JJ 2: If you look at black gay men for example who are particularly at risk, there’s solid evidence that they have comparable risk factors to their white counterparts. (00:10)

CN 8: Translation: Black gay men are really good at using protection. So why is their risk of HIV so high? Johnson says he thinks it has to do with biased politics and bureaucracy but he’s optimistic about the future.

JJ 3: It’s a hopeful time for someone who works in HIV prevention. But we just have to keep working on getting the information out there for everybody. (00:10)

CN 9: Johnson hopes one day, there won’t be any names to read on World AIDS day. I’m Chloe Nevitt, Columbia Radio News.

Chloe Nevitt is a reporter from Columbia University with an interest in health, science, tech and medical reporting. Interests include cats and french food.

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