In a ceremony marking World AIDS Day, MCC-Penn Valley students and staff members read the names of 192 people in Kansas City and beyond who have died from the disease.
Dec. 1 was declared World AIDS Day in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the U.N. General Assembly, making this the 28th year. The event remembers people we’ve lost and asks everyone to recommit to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
At MCC-Penn Valley, the list of names was started years ago from a list of Kansas Citians lost to HIV/AIDS provided by the AIDS Service Foundation of Kansas City. For a while, AIDS Walk T-shirts had names printed on the back — until there got to be too many.
Nancy Harrington, Penn Valley division chair for science, math and engineering, asks the MCC community to contribute names every year. Some come to her by email or in person, or slips of paper can be placed in a memory container.
Most of the names are local people, but some are well-known, such as movie star Rock Hudson, tennis player Arthur Ashe and Queen rocker Freddie Mercury.
“Those of you who remember the 1980s will recall the fear,” Harrington said at this week’s observance. “The HIV/AIDS epidemic was raging unabated in this country and around the world, and thousands upon thousands were dying.”
AIDS has killed an estimated 39 million people since the first cases were recorded in 1981, according to the W.H.O.
In 2014, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, nearly one-third of Americans knew someone living with HIV or have had someone close to them die from the disease. Among gay and bisexual men, the figure rises to 56 percent.
Fortunately, an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, Harrington said. Fifteen million people are now accessing life-saving treatments. There has been a 42 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths since the peak in 2004.
The focus of World AIDS Day 2015 is on “zero,” Harrington said: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.
“It is not over,” Harrington reminded those gathered. “There is still no cure, so let’s get to zero.”