The goal of the event is to reduce stigma and support HIV-informed community health for all Delawareans, said John Beckley, director of development and marketing at AIDs Delaware. “Step up, Step out: Remove Stigma, Eliminate HIV, Improve Lives” was this year’s theme.
“Many are struggling with isolation, depression, and anxiety. This year, we walk with those folks in our hearts,” Beckley said. “Our case managers have confirmed that COVID-19 has created additional burdens for people living with HIV, people whose immune systems can be especially vulnerable.”
In addition to COVID-19, the global monkeypox outbreak has had a disproportionate impact on people with weakened immune systems, especially with those living with HIV: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed 2,000 monkeypox cases in the first two months of the U.S. outbreak and found that nearly 40% were in people with HIV.
There have been 35 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Delaware since this year’s outbreak began, and cases nationwide seem to be on the decline. Still, the disease is overwhelmingly affecting men who have sex with men.
That’s why, Beckley said, the Delaware AIDS Walk organizers decided to partner with the state’s Division of Public Health and Ivira Pharmacy to offer monkeypox — and flu — vaccines during this year’s event.
“[Monkeypox] is greatly affecting gay men or men who have sex with men,” Beckley said. “The same way that we were here at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the HIV virus, we should step up and see what we can do for the community by providing the vaccine at our walk.”
Spencer Love, 23, from Wilmington, walked Saturday morning in his city to support his community, family, and friends that have been impacted by the stigma of HIV/AIDS.
“I think it’s everyone’s responsibility in my generation to show up and support people who’ve departed, people who are still battling, and people who are still affected by the stigma,” Love said.
He added that he is thankful to scientific breakthroughs, since HIV is no longer a death sentence.